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Mizna Prose, Poetry, and Art Exploring Arab America

Volume 13, Issue 1, 2012 Literature in Revolution

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Mizna Volume 13 | Issue 1 2012


Mizna, Inc. Guest Editor

Mohammed A. Bamyeh Executive Editor

Lana Salah Barkawi Editor

Lisa Adwan Curator of Visual Art

Aissa Deebi Selection Committee

Lisa Adwan Mohammed A. Bamyeh Lana Salah Barkawi Executive and Artistic Director

Lana Salah Barkawi Board Members

Charlotte Karem Albrecht Yasin Alsaidi Rami Azzazi Amy Kamel Nahid Khan Michele Khouli Dipankar Mukherjee Rabi‘h Nahas Reem El-Radi P. Niny Salem

Mizna is an organization devoted to promoting Arab-American culture, providing a forum for its expression. We value diversity in our community and are committed to giving voice to Arab Americans through literature and art. Mizna is an Arabic word meaning “the cloud of the desert.” This cloud shades and protects the desert traveler, easing the journey. Mizna is published annually by Mizna, Inc., 2205 California Street NE, Suite 109A, Minneapolis, MN 55418. Copyright 2012 Mizna, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this journal may be reproduced without the consent of Mizna. To carry Mizna in your place of business, call 612-788-6920 or e-mail us at For more information, visit

Special Thanks

Jack Becker Mark L. Johnson Julia Malmgren Meena Natarajan Bao Phi Katie Herron Robb Scott Smith

This publication is made possible by the support of individual subscribers, our many generous donors, the Elmer L. and Eleanor J. Andersen Foundation, and the Jerome Foundation.

Mizna Volume 13 | Issue 1 2012





Mohammed A. Bamyeh



John Asfour

“Dictator for a Day”


Andrea Assaf



Mohja Kahf

“My People Are Rising”


Maimouna Alammar

“Between the Cradle of Freedom and the Gun to My Brother’s Head”


Burt Ritchie



Remi Kanazi



Hassan Mekouar

“The Revolution that Wasn’t”


Mary Barghout

“Egypt as Defined by American Viewers”


Angele Ellis

“For Nawal El Saadawi”


Hedy Habra

“Close-Up on Tahrir Square”


Ahmed Basiony

Visual Art: “30 Days of Running in the Space”


Shady El Noshokaty

“Ahmed Basiony”


Khaldoun Samman

“Poobah Wisekitty Speaks: the Arab Revolutions of 2011, Orientalism, and Other Issues”

Cover image by Shady El Noshokaty. The catalog for the Egyptian Pavilion exhibit at the 2011 Venice Biennale. Ahmed Basiony’s name had been removed from the cover by the Egyptian Ministry of Culture. Curator El Noshokaty organized the placing of yellow stickers with Basiony’s name and birth and death dates on each cover to correct the omission.

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Andy Young

“Egyptian Spring” “Status” “‘Bread. Dignity. Freedom . . .’: The Egyptian Revolution from New Orleans”


Tasnim Qutait

“The Purple Hitler Mustache” “Our Death” “Sleepless” “Winter Train”


Leila Tayeb

“Libya from New York, September 2011”


Dina Omar

“Epithalamium: a Zaffah”


R. Abusahan

“The Eye Will Resist the Awl”






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Mizna Volume 13 | Issue 1 2012

foreword On one of the early days of the Egyptian Revolution, in February, 2011, the popular poet Ahmed Fouad Negm joined the hundreds of thousands gathered in Tahrir Square in Cairo. Much was expected of him on that day. After all, he was well-known for his biting, usually satirical, political poems, which landed him in jail for a total of 18 years spanning the reigns of all three modern Egyptian presidents. He was already well-established as a symbol of popular if unorganized opposition to the regime, famous as an eloquent expositor of common sentiments, with poetic skills that regularly hit the right register between indignation and humor, tragic sensibility and liveliness, classic literary affinities and popular idioms—in short, he mastered the expressive terrain that lay between depth and lightness. Now over 80 years of age, he had lived to see a genuine revolution: a moment in time, unexpected as it was, witnessing the advent of the political hopes expressed in his literary output. Not only that, but the lighthearted popular effervescence he had so extolled now appeared to describe the very spirit of the revolution underway. Yet on that day he recited no poems, evading the request by saying that on that day, it was the people who were composing the greatest poem, in their own action. When I heard that I thought that perhaps the revolutionary moment may not be a good time for literature. To the extent that it is related to a revolution, good literature perhaps precedes the revolution or comes after it; it either prepares the ground for revolution, however unconsciously, or articulates new horizons, previously unsuspected, that become discernible only after the revolution. But the moment of the revolution itself seems more conducive to surprised reflection than new production. After all, precisely when the revolution is not expected, one does not yet— that is, as it is unfolding—possess the analytical sensibilities appropriate for it. One’s analytical sensibilities then are still informed by a pre-revolutionary climate; in a revolutionary moment one tends to reflect on how surprised one is by what is happening. One spends much of the revolutionary time awed by the transformation of all others around, from demure, passive onlookers yesterday, to makers of grand history today. Yet the revolutionary moment is itself a moment of tremendous creativity. This creativity is both the engine of the revolution that keeps it going until it reaches its destination, and an outcome of the atmosphere of liberty and license created by the revolution itself. And thus one would expect a literature of a new kind to emerge after


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the revolution. Not necessarily better or worse than the literature preceding the revolution, but one addressed to a world that has been changed by the revolution. The frozen reality preceding the revolution has now burst open, but unclear are the features of the post-revolutionary society and state. That uncertainty is precisely one evidence of the success of the revolution: post-revolutionary uncertainty arises precisely because the revolution has destroyed a closed and definite world, and replaced it with one in which an unknown future is yet to be made by human activity. In this case, the only certainty we have about the post-revolutionary phase is that it is an invitation to creativity. Whereas before the revolutions much of Arab literary creativity focused on conditions of impasse and described how the little person became a tragic hero under conditions of closure and stasis without end, post-revolutionary literature is confronting a new dynamic environment in which tomorrow is unknown, an environment in which what one does today appears to influence what may happen tomorrow. And as such, the post-revolutionary stage would be expected to be characterized by creativity of a new kind, one that draws energy from a combined reservoir of nervous energy, multiple anticipations, partial knowledge and, above all, dynamism and openness to horizons unconfronted before. This reservoir has already been in existence in the revolutionary process, and it may even be said that it supplied the psychological attributes of the revolutions—in other words, ensured the transformations of movements of protest into genuine revolutions. In that sense, a revolution is a method for discovering, then expanding a little further, the limits of the possible. It is an experiment in which the imagined becomes real. In the process, this spawns new imaginations that become new ways of thinking about, narrating, or considering the world. If this is true, then we should expect that after the passing of the political revolution, in literature the revolution may go on. That is because all political activity, including revolutions, can only supply some of those emancipations that the revolutionary moment has made possible for one to glimpse or imagine, but not yet capture. Mohammed A. Bamyeh, Guest Editor

Mohammed Bamyeh is a professor of sociology at the University of Pittsburgh and the editor of the International Sociology Review of Books. He lived in Cairo during the revolution and has since published several articles on the Arab uprisings. His latest book is Anarchy as Order: The History and Future of Civic Humanity.


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John asfour dictator for a day Destined to be immortal, I ordered the throne big enough to fit my rump and employed the best of artists to carve the legs with fine chisels. Fill the wood on the sides with figurines of ivory and gold I wanted the back to fit my shoulders exactly wanted it comfortable and perfect and wanted divine things to be present at will; two lions and two headed eagles a perfect replica of Ivan’s throne. It had to be just right reflecting the land mass I wanted to rule for decades and train my children to rule after me. I’d ask other emperors in the region to visit and marvel at the power such a throne emanates. On slow nights, I’d ask my ministers to assemble around the throne and assure me that my rules and laws are impeccable, and their loyalty unshakable: Did you put my people to sleep? Did any of them resist slumber? I’d ask Did you hypnotize them all? Later, I’d call on the ladies to come in, one to dance in the nude another to sing and my favorite to sit in my lap. I’d whisper in her ear: Call me Augustus, and I praise her cleavage, caress her silk and say: If you are good, I will name you Augusta and buy you gold slippers. After I get inebriated. I would repeat for anyone to hear:


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I am a great emperor and have done the best for my people; paved the roads, installed the internet, built hospitals and schools kept the water and electricity running perfected the jails in every part of my kingdom and stashed an outrageous amount of money so I’d have enough bread when famine strikes. I have only taken freedom away from them. What else do they want? It is difficult to believe what I know and what I know is that one day I spoke to God and he asked me in the open to represent him on earth and to do his work so I gave myself the permission to cause earthquakes, floods and storms of every kind. I told myself that I could kill and I could uproot trees, change borders and walk the streets in disguise only to see how I can be immortal, only to give them enough food so they would not rebel or start a revolution. But God, do not worry, I am ready for such a thing. I have enough money and firepower to light an inferno and once they rebel, I can finish them all. I will kill, crucify, maim and turn into dust whoever opposes my will. After a long rant, I will go to sleep and dream of a new revolution. I will win one revolution and swear not to lose ever. I’d be Caesar riding his horse, conquering every land and occupying every city and in my final dream on the Ides of March, I would wait for Brutus to stab me in the back. M


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andrea assaf Traveling “I’m traveling, Mom. Don’t blame me. I’m lost on a road I have not chosen. Forgive me if I ever disobeyed you. Blame these days, don’t blame me. I’m leaving . . . no return. I’ve had enough crying . . . no tears come . . . my eyes . . . Blame this age of treachery in this estranged land. I’m tired . . . putting everything behind. I’m traveling. I’m wondering if the travel will help me forget.” —Mohamed Bouazizi, 12/17/10 M

This is an English-language interpretation of Mohamed Bouazizi’s suicide note to his mother, posted on his Facebook page. Tarek alTayyib Mohamed ibn Bouazizi, a 26-year-old Tunisian fruit vendor who quit high school to work and support his mother and sisters, set himself on fire on December 17, 2010, after his wares had been repeatedly confiscated by the police. It was a fire that sparked the revolution now spreading through the Arab world. His last note was pure poetry, his final act pure protest. I pulled from rough translations on the internet, and edited and reformatted to highlight the poetry of Bouazizi’s message. —Andrea Assaf


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Mohja Kahf My People are rising My people are rising, lifting olive branches and song, they are waking; the earth underneath their marching is shaking. They are not crouched; they are not stooping; they are not hungry for bread alone; “We don’t want your bread,” they say, “We are hungry for more—” I see their faces changing under fresh fresh tears, mine and theirs. Some spigot in my chest just opened that has been stopped up for forty-eight years, longer than my lifespan. Overspilling the ruts of the canal, it irrigates my heart’s dry land into wet, wet soil, and my people are lifting themselves off their knees today. I can see right into their pounding chests and who has therein a mote’s weight of good will see it too, and will rush out to gather and kiss it. Today the people of Syria are moving; they have learned that they can move, have legs, have arms; they can lift the lever of the world, each woman, each man, each child. Today the people muster as if earth is convulsing in labor and the onlookers say, “What hath it wrought? What is its matter?” And my people say, “What are these burdens that have crushed us down for forty-eight years? What are these towers we have built over us?” And the towers will collapse like carded wool: My people are shaking off what has bound them, and it will scatter like moths, and what seemed worthless will be deemed real, and what had been scorned small will be our thorny crown. Today my people are rising. Bless them.


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My people are banishing their fear, and it returns like a beast in the night and they banish it again, and it returns again and they swat it like a fly. Fear once harried their faces like flies abuzz on a wine-pouch and now it flies. They have stripped themselves of the armor of their fathers: my people are marching barehanded and strong; bless them. My men are rising and my women are rising and my children are rising; in a thousand places recorded and unrecorded, rising. The women began it. The children began it. The Kurds began it in the north, seven years ago. In the south, seven months ago, children wrote on the walls of Dara city, “The people want the fall of the regime!” and the Kurds cried in Qamishly, “Honor our fallen of seven years, lift martial law, and release the prisoners!” Down in Damascus, the families gathered at Justice Palace demanding, “Release the prisoners!” There, in Marjeh Square, where the government serves, the women were dragged by the hair. The mothers of children were clubbed. The fathers and brothers were trampled. The sisters and children were beaten. The people rose. My people of Dara rose. Into their chests they took the first bullets. Bless their chests, bless their bare arms raised. Bless their voices calling in the night, at the grim sight of white buses unloading black-clad men lobbing fire. My Baniyas is rising and my Homs is rising; bless them. My Sanameyn, my Jabla, my Inkhel are rallying; bless them. My Daraya is gathering and my Tal is gathering; bless them. My Latakia, my Idlib, my Tartus are marching; bless them. My Qamishlo was always marching, born marching. I see them rising in Raqqa and Hama and Deir al-Zor and I bless them. I see them marshaling in country and in city and I bless them. I see them mustering, Kurd and Arab and Turkmen and Assyrian and Circassian and Ghajar and Armenian; bless them. Christian and Alawite and Druze and Ismaili, bless them, Sunni and Shia; tribe and tent and house and clan, bless them. River and mountain and desert and coast, bless them. East and west and north and center: to the highways headed south, succoring Dara the sieged, blessing Dara, rising for Dara, witnessing for Dara. -5-

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Dara is risen. The cave is empty the body is gone. Dara is risen! The fear is gone and life resurrected, and this is where the day begins: I believe in the march of my people. Today my people are awakening and I want all people to bless them. Their hearts are broad as the surface of the fields and their voices reach me: What is this thunder? My whispering people have become this thunder. Since I was a little girl I have heard their hush. They have hushed all the hours of their lives, and my mother’s, and mine. I have listened all my life for this beautiful roar. Bless them. My people are rising like thunder, and after thunder comes rain on the knolls, and the grasses sprouting. My people are rising. Bless my people. They stand before tanks barechested and they fall under bullets while calling, “The earth is big enough for all of us! Let us have a little of it too! The earth is big!” And as they bleed out on the cement in the street in the town where they played as children, their blood mixes with rain and runs off into the big big earth for which they longed. . And the Horani said as he lay dying in the pool of rain mixed with blood, “It’s worth it to have lived these last days free.” And though it was not I who cradled his head, I hear his words, and his blood runs into the soil of my dark, dark heart like the rain in Syria. M


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b eTween The Cradle of freedoM and The Gun To My broTher’s head Maimouna Alammar I was home alone with my five-month-old daughter, Emar. My mother and mother-in-law had left. The phone kept ringing. I wanted to break it. I live in Daraya, a suburb of Syria’s capital, Damascus. It was November 18, the eighth month of the Syrian revolution. That military home raids have become part of daily life doesn’t mean our nerves aren’t on edge from it. Around 6:30 p.m, my brother Suhaib called. At twenty-two, he’s two years younger than I. “I’m coming over.” “Power’s out,” I said. The regime turns off the electricity whenever they’re about to clamp down on an area. I wanted him to understand that it wasn’t the right time to visit, but because of the police state, not because of me! I’d delight in seeing him, and so would the baby. The expected hour passed and he did not arrive. The phone rang again. It was my mother, worrying about Suhaib. Dad was still in prison. At dawn on September 17, they’d dragged him off over mom’s protests. He has taught nonviolence for decades. I grew up in a family committed to the sacredness of human life. “Suhaib just called asking what your father-in-law’s name is. They must have him at a checkpoint,” Mom said. “I’ll call him.” Suhaib answered. From his voice, I thought he was okay, but strangely, I couldn’t hear bus-stop background noises. “I need your father-in-law’s name,” he said. I lost it. Suhaib sometimes does and says things at the wrong time. “Why do you need it just now? It’s Ahmed, already!” “I’ll be there soon, Maimouna,” he said. I put the baby to bed. My husband, Osama Nassar, had been in prison when Emar was born on June 10. I held off naming her so we could name our first child together. They released Osama June 27. “Emar” is a Sumerian word meaning “freedom.” The doorbell rang. Before I got there, it rang a second time. Whoever was behind the door was in a hurry. Suddenly I wondered if it could be state police. I peeked through the hole: Suhaib stood there. It was dark; I barely saw the frown on his face. Behind him, on the landing, was another figure that I didn’t examine closely. -7-

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I started to open the door; a huge, lightly bearded, middle-aged man hiding by the door shoved his way in, holding a gun against Suhaib’s head. “Where is your husband?” he screamed. I tried to push the door shut against him, saying, “Wait! I’m not dressed! Wait until I put my headscarf on.” I ran to the bedroom for it. He was right behind me, gripping Suhaib. Another armed man started searching the house. The large bearded man, pointing the gun at Suhaib, asked, “Where’s your husband?” “I don’t know. He’s left the house.” “When?” “He had been detained. After they released him, he left the house.” He sneered, “Oh, detained? Does that mean he has an opinion and a conscience?” I didn’t reply. Did an agent in a police state know the meaning of having an opinion or the significance of having a conscience? He said, “Your husband killed three government security agents.” “My husband didn’t kill anyone. My husband doesn’t believe in killing.” Osama and I met because we both embrace nonviolence. His whole life is about believing that people can change themselves and their world nonviolently. He snapped, “I will kill you.” Emar stirred in her crib. “Killing isn’t the answer,” I said. He said, more calmly, “You’re against killing? So what’s the answer, in your view?” I felt that my words woke the human side in him. I said, “We shouldn’t shed blood.” Maybe he forgot himself for a moment. In a police state police are not supposed to engage with citizens; it might bring a sense of humanity to the interaction. Emar gurgled. The man leaned over her crib—that’s when my heart dropped— and picked up my cell phone, which lay on my bed. Emar smiled at me, eyes wide and curious. If this were happening in the city of Homs, my baby likely would have been killed at this point in a home raid. My seven-year-old cousin, Zuhair Alammar, was killed playing in a field in Dara in May, by government security agents just like this one. “What do I press to find your husband’s number?” I didn’t say anything. I looked him in the eye, trying to call out any goodness in him. “If you won’t answer me, we’ll take your baby daughter until your husband surrenders.”


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“For shame,” I said, picking up Emar and thinking, Over my dead body. I looked at him over her soft cheek. “Please don’t.” He said, “Then isn’t it also wrong to kill people?” I said, “We didn’t kill any. We don’t kill people.” He replied, “Okay. I’m leaving her with you, just to show I’m human.” I lucked out. Layal Askar, Ola Jablawi, Hamza Khatib, Tamer Share, Ibrahim Shayban, my cousin Zuhair—these are a few of the murdered children of Syria. The man grabbed Suhaib’s arm. “If your husband doesn’t surrender, I’ll bring your brother back in a coffin.” I wanted to throw my arms around Suhaib, to stop them from taking him, but there was Emar to think about. I could put myself between Emar and the police, or Suhaib and the police, but not both. I at least blurted, “My brother didn’t do anything. It’s my husband you want. Leave my brother alone!” It’s not just me; women all over Syria are protesting as their loved ones are dragged from their homes. Suhaib called, “Maimouna, tell—” but was interrupted by a slap and a loud “Shut up, idiot!” I will tell the world for you, brother. God protect you. God help all my brothers, all my sisters, all our children in Syria. M

______________________ This piece was originally published in Women's eNews and is reprinted here with permission.


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burt ritchie listen the arab part helps in the summer doesn’t everyone like to be outside don’t blame me if I don’t come when I’m called there is a lake and yes your voice echoes but I just wasn’t listening I was occupied M


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remi Kanazi revolution 1. you were told no stop complaining keep your head down walk forward smile when spoken to this is just how things are it could be worse it could be over there it could be back the way it was but it can’t be what you’re thinking they’re too powerful too brutal too supported by the West Saudi Israel brokered deals to keep you down and your resources out cheap don’t stand up resist reject must respect status quos that keep you imprisoned your outspoken tortured your economy pillaged


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in the U.S., “moderates” reinforced myths working within a system that worked them into nicer houses brought them 100K galas and one-on-ones with war criminals who will be written about in the next edition of A People’s History 2. the youth rose up labor woke up pessimists former pan-Arabists and pragmatists reimagined worldviews took to squares took over squares chanting down with Ben Ali down with Mubarak down with the Regime rewriting conventional wisdom with a dreamer’s pen it is not too late we are not free enough he may be better than his father but less evil is still evil 3. ruled, squashed pummeled, broken backed up against walls skulls smashed repainting sidewalks stabbed in squares scalped in dungeons hung in courtyards -12-

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4. keep your head down is no longer a solution from Tahrir to Nabi Saleh people are redefining authority by asserting communities as leaders WE are the future and that is not a campaign slogan but a lifestyle that sees snapping fists as a catalyst to resistance shaking off rulers corrupt Arab neighbors leagues of dictators U.S. imperialism Israeli hegemony and old guard egos who were bruised by their failures revolution doesn’t come easy the world is watching much of the world is working against you remember that but you are a people’s movement your resolve is a revolution the world is watching much of the world is standing with you remember that M


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The revoluTion



Hassan Mekouar That winter, so many revolutions broke out in one country after another across this vast region of Tamaristan that journalists ran out of names of plants or flowers to refer to them. Several months of twenty-four hour broadcasts of mass demonstrations—with slogans of Down With So and So and the People Want Change, alternating with live images of mobbed police vehicles and burning banks and shopping malls—had already undone more than a dozen dictators who, after having wielded so much power, found themselves prisoners in their own presidential planes endlessly circling the globe with tons of cash and gold, unable to find a country that would openly allow them to land, as if their plane carried the plague, which it did of course, in a way. Only a few brother satraps allowed them in secret, in exchange for ingots and cash, to land in the middle of the night for a few hours in unmarked army bases to refuel their planes and immediately take off with the express proviso that if the media picked up on the information, that quote humanitarian privilege end quote would be withdrawn. Now, for several of these airborne fugitives, this flying palace life became untenable after a few days, and with no possibility of getting any kind of help from erstwhile Western friends, the notion of ordering the plane back home and crashing it right on their own mob-occupied capital was entertained pretty seriously. The thugs protecting the President and who could read His thoughts—weren’t they trained and equipped to read the thoughts of everyone in the country, after having learned to read their mail and e-mail and even to decipher the remains of their voiceprints? These brutes now looked closely at what the pilots were doing and considered how they could, if given the order, carry out the supreme act of revenge on the ungrateful mobs who had dared overthrow the “Father and Symbol and Breadth, etc. of the Nation” and are fouling every square foot of the once-immaculate sprawling presidential compound! With the domino effect now in full swing, all media eyes turned to one of the last countries in the region still holding out, but for how long everyone was wondering. Already the number of demonstrations in the once-peaceful Mayssana was growing every day, and distorted, yes, distorted images of them naturally broadcast around the world. Not too difficult to mobilize a few hundred disgruntled men and women, especially among the restless young, when you are an envious neighboring country in the throes of an insurrection yourself and want world attention distracted ever so slightly from


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your own troubles. Never in the entire history of Western Tamaristan had so many dormant agents from Eastern T. been unmasked by ANI (our Agency for National Integrity) and their evil designs exposed, live, on national television. Still, even if the sparks here and there were ignited by the neighbors, they provoked enough fires from burning tires and Molotov cocktails to start the international media guessing just how this particular scenario would unfold, rehashing at the same time the old litany of injustice and inequality and joblessness and corruption and lack of political expression and what not, while they commented on all these uprisings. But for this country, another, happier future was in the works, a future coming straight out of the past since our Great Leader had made a vital decision many, many years ago, because He had built His entire political credo and survival strategy on a single slogan from the old colonial administrator who once quipped that in Western T., “To Rule Is to Foresee.” For more than thirty-some years, and still smarting from the lessons of the blood-repressed uprisings in the seventies, eighties, and nineties of the previous century, the GL had been preparing Himself for the Real Big One, avatars of which He—and the rest of the world—could now watch on TV and follow on the Internet every day. He had been getting ready for the Real Big One, with the certainty that if He were to simply wait for the expected explosion it would be impossible for Him to fix anything about it afterward and His fate would inevitably unfold like that of His erstwhile peers (those who had not been shot or hanged) on board a palatial airplane ceaselessly circling the globe, unable to find a landing spot even on the most forsaken desert! To understand the process you have to remember that this country is blessed with good farming land, plentiful and diversified mineral resources, a long coastline with some of the best fishing grounds in the world, and an excellent climate and beaches attracting millions of tourists in search of the three s’s (sun, sea, and . . .) It’s also blessed with the ingenuity of its own people, when these people live outside the country. Thousands of the best and the brightest of them now strut their genius in European and American labs and research institutions, having emigrated for lack of prospects or opportunities at home, or rather attracted by conditions and offers they could not refuse. The GL had always been interested in their fate, and ANI reported to Him regularly on all the progress they made and the great discoveries they helped achieve abroad. The country is also blessed—or cursed—with a plant that grows everywhere, with no cultivation, no effort, no hassle. It is the great plant cannabis, which used to provide, when dried, smoking pleasure for the male population, before the colonial occupation introduced cigarettes as a sure way to stuff its tax coffers and banned the sale of the traditional herb in the shops that sold mint -15-

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and verbena and such. The prevalence of the plant soon became a problem when “technical assistants” from the North showed the locals how to extract and process the active ingredient and multiply the value of the wild plant a thousand-fold. The inevitable mafiatype activity around the business grew and grew, but the GL’s government remained “plastic-eyed” because that kind of business was less troublesome for it than the political-opposition business or the religious-extremism business. The real Big Idea was His. And it harks back at least two decades. First there was some research being done in California by one of our exiled compatriots who “lost” a computer disk in a Mayssana airport lounge, and it landed on the desk of the ANI boss with conclusions that several big companies were researching the uses of one active substance in cannabis for medical purposes. Extremely promising research, and with an economic potential exceeding the dangerous underground returns here. What a lead for our Great Leader! The information triggered something in His mind, and He ordered the formation of a group of our best scientists, who were given everything they needed to study the stuff and beat the California teams. A number of excellent scientists, with clear academic covers—they were mostly university people—huge salaries, perks from special funds, opportunities to travel, and ANI’s proven ability to steal for them any kind of document they needed from anywhere in the world, whether published or unpublished! At first, the Big Idea was simply to make the best out of a noisome national resource and beat all potential competition. That research was proceeding apace when another general strike hit one of our big cities and riot police had to utilize so much tear gas that they ran out of stock and Interior had to get some more from our European suppliers—orders delivered pretty quickly, but not without the usual messy publicity about human rights and such. The Big Idea came to our GL from the contemplation of pictures of rioters and police hurling tear gas grenades at angry demonstrators and all the tension and the media only looking to take pictures of wounds or worse. He ordered the head of the secret scientific unit to see if the substance in the tear gas grenades could be replaced with another of our own making that relied on chemicals that could be extracted from our vivacious national plant. The scientists were told to take all their time and “to hurry slowly.” The GL’s 1989 three-point plan, as I got it from one colleague who had received the information from another who had once worked in one of the palace outfits, involved a multi-pronged strategy: 1) to strengthen the already strong relationship with the tear gas supplier in the country of B. with steady increases in orders; 2) to direct one of the companies he owned to buy a few million shares of the holding that controls that weapons manufacturer; and 3) to make sure -16-

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that a few of the ANI geniuses working here or abroad were infiltrated, actually recruited by that company into their R&D department. That move was made easy by the fact that the human resources manager’s private secretary had also been working undercover for ANI for a long time, in charge of reporting on the entire migrant community there, and made sure the two or three Tamaristani applications were among the short list, so that when the time for interviews arrived, several of the other, perhaps better, applicants had “problems” on their way to the interview site—a fire here, a few car or bus accidents there, awkward delays for most others, and that was it! And our newly recruited engineers were bright, transferring the technology and testing new approaches in our secret labs at home while gaining kudos from their bosses, by the way, because their regular work contributed to the improvement of the existing riot control machinery. Now, the demos in Western T. were increasing in number and intensity every day, and this with or without contribution from our eastern enemies. Soon the “Million Men March” protest was decreed and the day marked and all the media of the world were howling: The GL is next! The GL is next! But the GL had had plenty of time to prepare. At least ten years since the time he made sure His secret weapons developers weren’t too late in coming up with the transformations he wanted. The magic grenades were tested and ready and stocked near enough to all our urban concentrations, of course in packaging in every way similar to the original “Made in B.” I remember as I tell this story how our TV had multiplied reporting on arrests of drug traffickers, a few tons every so often caught in different ports of the great land, with recurrent images of our able police burning this illicit stuff in huge piles like so many medieval autos-da-fé, with plumes reaching up to the impassible heavens! Come to think of it, now having put two and two together, I can swear that none of the grass shown burning on TV was actually destroyed, but only ersatz stuff. The real cannabis paste had been steadily feeding our secret labs with limitless raw material. The day before the Million Men March, or MMM, as the call for the overthrow demo was soon dubbed, images had shown the GL at His normal activities, participating in His favorite outdoor sports, a meeting or two with foreign dignitaries, the inauguration of an experimental farm on land owned by ANI (a direct result of the research that you are familiar with); in short, no tension whatsoever on His face, just that sly smile I can now interpret as telling the world without words: Let them try. I’ll show them if they think I’m so and so . . . As expected, the MMM day started with live broadcasts of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people in the center of our capital and other major cities, marching with banners and shouting slogans -17-

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that were still comparatively mild, waiting for the riot police to intervene and the first deaths to occur before using the epithets of criminal and killer that would precipitate the events of that historic day and unleash the fury of the mobs. The police machinery in Mayssana and elsewhere stood in impeccable order, letting the marchers march as long as no private or public building was attacked, and no incendiary slogans shouted. By mid-morning the riot police lined avenues, boulevards of the cities were dense with protesters, and the entire world was watching for the moment the MMM at the capital would erupt in violence. A single fight in the middle of the densest part of the main square—Eastern Tamaristani provocateurs surely—and the expected explosion occurred. An unbelievable melee, with demonstrators at one another’s throats and young and old alike breaking the grilles of electronics shops and smashing windows to grab what goods they could, taking advantage of the confusion. The first small bombs, landing where the protesters were thickest, provoked only more confusion at first and erratic movements of the crowds, but strangely enough, no tears. No tears at all. On the contrary, all the live television images showed unexplained explosions of laughter on more and more faces as the gas spread and engulfed the crowds. Masks of anger were turning into masks of mirth and fists pounding the air to drive the slogans home were now turning into dances of joy and salutes. The TV crews (reporting live on the events) broke into such hysterical laughter that they couldn’t finish the sentences they started, and they infected viewers from around the world with spasms of hilarity. Their bosses back at the home studios had to intervene and interrupt the live broadcasts, leaving the respected reporters laughing even more at the absurd order they received to stop covering that unexpected joyful turn of events. Why, they cried, should we cover only bloodshed? This is news, news, news! They laughed until they became hoarse. In the meantime, of course, other images from different parts of the country showed similar scenes with the very same outcomes of would-be rioters fraternizing with police and everyone kissing everyone else and big posters of the GL raised from God knows where with that same ironic smile on His face, telling the world, I told you so! That MMM day in Western Tamaristan turned into something else then, luckily for its population, and the overall destruction consisted of only a few hundred shops damaged and a few dozen people treated for, let us say, minor injuries or overexposure. Nothing at all when compared to what happens to the neighbors every day! The neighbors were green with envy at how things had turned out for the GL, not understanding a wee bit of what had happened— even after they were able to exfiltrate one of their dormant agents -18-

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who had been present at the March and submit him to a thorough biological and chemical examination. Total darkness. All the symptoms of the once-angry crowds—the glazed eyes, the slurred speech, and the irrepressible laughter and gushes of affection—all pointed to some substance put by the authorities in the drinking water system. But no. No! Our TV, already prepared for that lie, had filmed hordes of women and children with none of those symptoms and collected convenient interviews in slums that had just then been equipped with drinking water, focusing on grateful denizens gulping down whole pitchers of it in front of TV cameras! The morning after, of course, every protester went back to his or her usual occupation with a headache and strange, undefined cravings that turned into general dissatisfaction and then anger, which brought back the original urge to demonstrate and demonstrate until the GL would accept the legitimate yet undefined demands of the People. Soon, another MMM was scheduled and held just a week later, with the same result of those mysterious mobdispersal weapons that turned the crowds instead into jolly merry-makers and hostile slogans into slogans in support of the GL and His love of the welfare of His People! The coordination of opposition parties and groups that had planned the MMMs could not of course organize too many of those now and mobilize the masses in the same way. The third or fourth series involved only a fraction of the original numbers. Those demonstrators refused to leave at the end of the day, lingering until the absolute final whiffs left by the good grenades had been inhaled. And then, my friend, something very strange happened. The ultimate secret weapon! There emerged here and there across the great country thousands of spontaneous groups, leaderless and totally apolitical, who made it their job to come and occupy our public spaces, praying to the riot police to intervene, to bombard them with our very special, laugh-till-you-cry gas. They would not leave until they got their daily dose. And they were back the next day and then the next. And then again the day after, growing in numbers and getting angrier and angrier when they couldn’t get enough because the strategic stocks had to be distributed in a sustainable fashion! The new problem facing us was in the numbers: all those who were hooked and who were now clamoring for more, every day—not demanding bread or jobs or housing or justice, just pleading with the GL, beseeching Him to keep His riot police on full alert, and to serve His People a little of the magic stuff that made them forget all their troubles. But these protest demonstrations received no coverage. The international media had long concluded that we Western Tamaristanis were absolutely nuts and left us alone to go and film our neighbors’ woes. Fortunately for the stability of the State, the -19-

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supply problem had a solution. The genius of the GL had made it so there was enough of the stuff inside the grenades to last for another generation and had more of it put aside in case we were to be attacked by our envious neighbors. Under the visionary guidance of our GL, in preparation for just such an attack, our valiant armed forces, using our own tech wizards, also replaced the explosives inside our artillery shells all along our eastern border with the calming substance, which would turn any future battle with our enemies to our advantage . . . M


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Mary barghout egypt as defined by american viewers You are only what I want from you. You are only the trinkets I want to buy. So present me with icons and historic materials. You are only the history that sparks my interest. So delight me with gold and pharaohs. You are only valuable when you hold my esteem, or my debt forgiveness. You are only present when I think of you. Your Cairo only exists when I watch news of it. You are simple because I do not want to have to contemplate your complexities. You are for me to sample you are for me to judge you are for me to compliment or to disengage. You give me visual stimulus Pyramids and comely women so I can give you funding. The Nile flowed into the world, so I could rent a felucca to ride in.


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You are the spectacle I am the audience. I am, therefore you are. You are finished when I stop paying attention. Maybe my glance will shift now. And by my looking I will create Ghana, Sudan, Libya. They cannot be, unless I create them. M


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angele ellis for nawal el saadawi This revolution is too late, but anyway, it came. So— —Nawal El Saadawi* It is your face transfixed in Tahrir Square I am becoming more radical with age. I have noticed that writers, when they are old, become milder. But for me it is the opposite . . . your cotton hair in bunches like a girl’s your eyes glittering like Yeats’s Chinese sages carved in lapis lazuli with a hopeful long-legged bird like sacred pieces of the Black Rock held together with slashed lines of silver Plastic surgery is a post-modern veil . . . but your face, like the gift of your name, is lifted to the weathers of experience you shed three husbands and the caution of your children you walk out of jails that shatter like discarded mirrors They will never give it up by choice. Even a husband in the house, no—power has to be taken with power . . . you wake and sleep in the Square with this dream, day and night Women and girls are beside boys in the streets. They are—and we are calling for justice, freedom, and equality . . . you recall the stolen flower of your womanhood In Europe and America, women are circumcised mentally . . . A young man stands before you with his bride. He tells you your books have made him a better man: Because of them I wanted to marry not a slave but a free woman M

______________________ *All verses in italics are quotations from Nawal El Saadawi.


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hedy habra Close-up on Tahrir square A matronly woman with a black headscarf kisses a young policeman with blue eyes. When did she ever get so bold as to break through the cracks of rigid ancestral walls, allow her breath to reach the warmth of a man’s skin other than her husband or sons. Stunned, he lets her hold his helmet-covered head between her palm and lips, feels her mouth sink into his cheek as in quicksand, he dissolves as though sucked into her womb, becomes a statue of salt, both hands frozen around his raised rifle, and sees his reflection in the sun, face framed with the colors of peace. Both wonder if a lamb will ever lie by the side of a lion. M


visual arT by

ahmed basiony


(Adapted from text provided by Shady El Noshokaty) On January 28, 2011, when he was thirty-two years old, Ahmed Basiony was killed by snipers on the Friday of Wrath in Tahrir Square in Cairo. He immediately became an emblem of hope to millions of Egyptians. Basiony’s words on his Facebook status, on his final Wednesday and Thursday evenings, showed him full of determination to continue the revolution in peace, though he had been beaten by the batons of police. “Please, O Father, O Mother, O Youth, O Student, O Citizen, O Senior, and O more. You know this is our last chance for our dignity, the last chance to change the regime that has lasted the past 30 years. Go down to the streets and revolt, bring your food, your clothes, your water, masks and tissues, and a vinegar bottle, and believe me, there is but one very small step left . . . If they want war, we want peace, and I will practice proper restraint until the end, to regain my nation’s dignity.” Basiony is considered one of the most important Egyptian contemporary visual and sound artists of his generation. Born in Cairo, Egypt, in 1978, he studied art at the Faculty of Art Education at Helwan University, graduating in 2000, and later taught in the same faculty, in the Department of Painting and Drawing. He earned an M.A. in philosophy of art and was pursuing his Ph.D. in sound art and electronics. Working within the intersection of art, science, and technology, he was specifically interested in structural and physical relations between sound and visual phenomena. He had developed a keen interest in open-source art projects that relied on symmetric systems as a language to be explored. His various projects involved diverse media such as video, performance, interactive sound installation, and live sound.


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30 days of running in the space A year prior to the Egyptian uprisings, Ahmed Basiony worked on a project titled “30 Days of Running in the Space.” Exhibited outside the Palace of the Arts (located across the Nile from Tahrir Square, on the Opera House grounds) was a square structure enclosed in transparent plastic sheets. The space was made for a digital- and performance-based concept whereby the artist was to wear a sensorfused plastic suit he had designed that would calculate the level of sweat produced and the number of steps taken while jogging for an hour every day in the space, for 30 days (a period reflecting the number of exhibition days). The data from the quantitative measurements was then wirelessly transferred onto a large screen displaying a grid of colors that changed according to the data received. “30 Days of Running in the Space” was later juxtaposed against another set of screens, containing raw footage of the revolts on the streets of Cairo from January 25 to January 27. Basiony, among his colleagues, filmed the motions around him, and upon returning home every evening, uploaded all the footage onto his laptop. However, the footage for the night of his disappearance, January 28, was never found. “30 Days of Running in the Space” is homage to the raw footage that survived Basiony’s sudden exit, and a reflection on his life as a well-respected Egyptian artist, son, husband, father, and friend who desired change for the betterment of his country. Images used with permission from Ahmed Basiony’s family. Shady El Noshokaty, Executive Curator Aida Eltorae, Curator

ahmed basiony: Career highlights “The City,” 2007, with Magdy Moustafa, exhibited in the Mahmoud Mokhtar Museum. This project won the artists the Grand Prize of the 13th Salon of Youth. The project was an audiovisual journey that transferred the real experience of being on Cairo’s streets into a virtual realm inside the exhibition space. Each part of the Cairo map was translated topographically onto the walls and through recorded environmental sounds emanating from strategically placed speakers on the virtual map. Viewers were invited to interact in an audible dialogue with the artists. The dialogue was captured by microphones and processed digitally by the artists. In Continued on page 29 -26-

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The images on pages 23–27 are photo stills from the video footage of “30 Days of Running in the Space.” Ahmed Basiony, 2010. -27-

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The images on this page are photo stills from unedited video footage taken by Ahmed Basiony in Tahrir Square in January 25, 2011.


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ahmed basiony: Career highlights Continued from page 22

the center of the room sat a live performer sewing bits and pieces of the city map, creating a new city. “Stammer: an Interactive Experiment,” 2007, organized by Shady El Noshokaty for the exhibition Occidentalism, curated by Karim Francis. In this project, Basiony introduced an idea that depended on the visitors’ interaction with their own personal portraits as captured by a surveillance camera and projected onto hundreds of unlit light bulbs. As soon as the visitors entered the hall, they were able to control the amount of illumination of the light bulbs by means of the volume of their voice. If they spoke at a high volume, the lamps would illuminate brightly, overshadowing their image projected onto the same bulbs, thus creating a power struggle between the viewer and the system. Viewers had to choose either to remain silent and allow their image to appear, or to produce sound and make their image disappear in the brightness of the lights. “The Body Invisible Presents,” 2009, in the Mawlawiyah Palace, with a conceptual performance titled “Symmetrical System.” Basiony covered a large area of the stage with a liquid rubber material mixed with pigments to simulate human skin. The artist appeared on stage wearing blue overalls, similar to those of a slaughterhouse worker, alongside a female performer wearing a dark Baroque-style dress, intricately detailed. Basiony began a surrealistic dialogue with the rubber surface. Sometimes the interaction was calculated precisely; at other times it became purely expressionistic, as if his body were trying to recreate itself to become one with the surface, inspired by the architecture of the stage, which was originally intended for ancient Sufi dancers. On the other hand, there was a tension in the relation with the female performer, who moved slowly like a puppet around him, trying carefully to invade his space. “Egypt Lab” workshops, 2008–2009, in cooperation with Medrar Contemporary Art Foundation in Egypt and the Hangar Foundation for technological production in Barcelona. These workshops focused on multimedia interactivity through the use of open-source programs like Pure Data, and the integration of external hardware circuitry like the Arduino electronic platform. Open-source programming is based on sharing experiences between different programmers to develop free-ofcharge software in an attempt to counteract the influence of large


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software production companies. These programs have immense flexibility in controlling and mixing different types of sensors and haptic and audiovisual equipment. “ASCII Doesn’t Speak Arabic,” 2010, exhibited at the Cairo Documenta. This project was a large independent art show organized by a group of young Egyptian artists for two weeks in an old downtown hotel. “ASCII Doesn’t Speak Arabic” was also produced using open-source programming to control the interactive process. The viewer’s moving image was projected live in the form of ASCII code onto one screen, but in the Arabic alphabet; the system assigned Arabic letters to each viewer’s head within the screen parameter. The viewer could then choose to push the letter assigned to him and project it onto the other screen by swinging his head to the side in a process that could include several viewers who had to synchronize their movements to compose coherent words or sentences onto the opposite screen. This project examined the relationship between body language and verbal communication. On the technical level, Basiony had to overcome the obstacle of ASCII applications, which are not compatible with the Arabic alphabet, with the help of a prominent Spanish programmer who specializes in this field. “Live 100,” May 2009 and 2010. As a creative musician, Basiony was invited to participate in one of the most important festivals for digital music and sound art in Egypt, the Live 100. Basiony’s musical vocabulary varied from a minimalist approach to a conceptual one when he presented his work in cooperation with Egyptian folk singer Abou Asala, creating a hybrid type of music fueled by the cultural contradiction between folk song and the digital minimalist music of the electronic age. Audiences and critics alike received this experiment well when it was performed at the Darb Foundation for Contemporary Art in 2010. A performance had also been planned for June 2011 at Sónar in Barcelona, one of the most prestigious digital music festivals in the world. The radio station, “Electronic music from Egypt, the Arab world and International,” dedicated the February 2011 program completely to Ahmed Basiony’s music, commemorating his death and acknowledging his unique talent. Shady El Noshokaty is a visual artist and a professor at the Faculty of Art Education at Helwan University and at the American University in Cairo. He received a Ph.D. in philosophy of art education in 2007 for his thesis, “Media Art and New Egyptian Identity.” -34-

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Poobah wiseKiTTy sPeaKs

The arab revolutions of 2011, orientalism, and other issues Khaldoun Samman

I. POOHBAH WISEKITTY ON THE ARAB REVOLUTIONS Khaldoun Samman “Dude, this cat on the TV is psyched about all the positive energy coming from Tunisia and Egypt!”—Poobah Wisekitty

Like • Comment • Share • February 12, 2011 at 1:44 p.m. John Fiedler likes this. Khaldoun Samman KHALDOUN: Some say they are not ready for Democracy. POOBAH: They have a point. Americans have long lived under rich man’s rule with their government ruled by the big fat cats. KHALDOUN: Kitty, I’m talking about Egypt. Many are saying that they are not ready to rule themselves. POOBAH: Well what do you expect? They’ve been saying that for a couple hundred years with the start of colonial modernity. It’s what psychologists call projection of your own conditions onto others.


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Like • Comment • Share • February 10, 2011 at 9:37 a.m. 2 people like this. Khaldoun Samman ARAB CAT: There is a pan-Arab intifada happening in front of our eyes, one that is both about shaking off the Arab despots who rule over us and the American imperialism that makes such regimes possible. AMERICAN GUY: Wait, isn’t this an Islamic thing, like you guys are trying to create a new caliphate? ARAB CAT: Oh boy, you truly are pathetic. Do yourself a favor and get that stupid script out of your head. This is a moment open to many possibilities. First and foremost is to create a political climate where a cat like me can live with dignity and get those fat cats to share some of their tuna fairly. And then second is to get them American Rambo guys out of our military and domestic and foreign policy. Third is to remove the collusion between this regime and the Israeli apartheid state. AMERICAN GUY: Are you going to chant “Allahu Akhbar” now? ARAB CAT: What are you like a dog or something and can’t think for yourself?

Like • Comment • Share • January 28, 2011 at 8:56 a.m. Steven Sherman, Gayle De Sulima Aruta, and 3 others like this.


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Leah Bowe Stay strong, boo. January 28, 2011 at 9:01 a.m. • Like • 2 Katrinka Somdahl-sands I wish my students had the insights of your cats! LOL January 28, 2011 at 9:08 a.m. • Like • 2 Erik Davis Can *I* chant Allahu Akbar if I don’t pretend it has anything to do with the amazing world revolution just now beginning? :) January 28, 2011 at 9:10 a.m. • Like • 2 Erik Davis All time favorite video clip of the last week. You liked the “Throw your bodies on the gears” speech? This one might someday ring another sort of bell. pgh1iOXI6sQ&t=1m29s January 28, 2011 at 9:25 a.m. • Like • 1 Khaldoun Samman “We will never be silenced. Whether you are Christian, Muslim, atheist. Give us back our rights!” January 28, 2011 at 9:33 a.m. • Like • 2 Steven Sherman Christian, Muslim, atheist . . . or feline! January 29, 2011 at 8:47 a.m. • Like • 1 Khaldoun Samman KHALDOUN: Kitty, you are deep in thought. What is going on inside your head? POOBAH: I’m just thinking about how we can create a positive progressive populist movement that focuses its attention on disempowering the people on top and giving more power to those with less. You humans fascinate me. You are obsessed with social divides, ganging up in all forms of “teams,” sometimes nationalist and imperialist and other times in terms of class, race, gender, or other ways. There are times when the social divide works, especially when you keep your focus on creating a divide with those who have power and those who do not. But I’ve been noticing that often your social divides get all weird. You start to make fun of the “white trash” or “them Muslims” or “religious people” or redneck country music and so on, creating an animosity with folks with less power. This is very dangerous and leads to folks on both sides, those labeled as the problem (“rednecks,” Muslims, Christians, “Jews of Israel”) and those labeling them (middle class liberals and professionals, secularists, etc.) to consolidate a political identity around these issues. KHALDOUN: So what is the problem with that, Poobah? We see an emerging, and very dangerous, Christian fundamentalist movement, or country music, which is very right-wing, sexist, and racist, or


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Muslims who are homophobic and sexist, Jews who are pro-Zionist and repress the Palestinians, and so on. Shouldn’t we be fighting them? POOBAH: Yes, anytime folks produce a political project that is repressive we should fight it. But what I have been observing through my feline eyes is that many of you are starting to act on the assumption that the problem is with “Christianity,” “Muslims,” “white trash,” “country music,” “Jews,” and so on, as though the repression stems from those inherent characteristics of the group. There is nothing essentially reactionary about country music, Christianity, football, and so on. By locating these as the problem you’ve allowed the powerful right wing a destructive populist platform from which to divide the social and political landscape and create tensions within the community that otherwise can unite in a progressive populist direction. It is only when we on the left, as creative cultural producers, start to respect again the multiplicity of people’s complex groupings and start to produce once again country music, Christian, and secular rock and roll, and so on that we may be able to challenge the right wing’s appropriation of this social landscape. KHALDOUN: So I think what you are saying is that people should stay focused on fighting the power rather than the little people, like the way many of us refuse to see cats like the way we see rats and mice? POOBAH: But Khaldoun, I've been reading the history of cat-human relationships by my favorite author, Garfield Zinn, and he has shown quite conclusively that often you humans have seen us the way you see rats and other animals. So don’t go there, buddy!

Like • Comment • Share • March 15, 2011 at 1:46 p.m. Sue Fuller Withee and 2 others like this.


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Khaldoun Samman “From sea to shining sea an awakened global movement, from Egypt and Tunisia to Wisconsin and London, is resurrecting itself with the knowledge of who its real enemy is: Not them barbaric ‘Muslims’ over there or them ‘Westerners’ over here, but them big-ass fat cats with their neoliberal and pro-corporate political parties both here and there.”—Poobah Wisekitty

Like • Comment • Share • March 27, 2011 at 10:12 p.m. Chris Wells and 2 others like this. Khaldoun Samman KHALDOUN: Yo, kitty. I love the message of this revolution, especially the way it continues to focus on social justice issues and refuses to play into the clash of civilization discourse. POOBAH: True, very impressive. But you have to remember that there are powerful rhetors (both European and Egyptian) out there who will try to bend the meaning back into the “war of Islam against the West.” KHALDOUN: But Poobah, there are times when the farce is so apparent that even powerful rhetors can’t reinterpret the situation in the standard way. This is clearly one of those moments. POOBAH: Don’t be so quick. While you were out teaching a class on Durkheim I was listening to right-wing radio do precisely this. And I bet you that at this very moment a whole army of rhetors is preparing to flock the public sphere so as to paint this revolutionary moment back into the old script. And you must tell all other humans they must be prepared for this hyperreal attack. KHALDOUN: Thanks, kitty. I’ll get on it right away.


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Like • Comment • Share • February 3, 2011 at 10:10 a.m. Sherrie Sage Hajek and Sol Neely like this. Sol Neely Brilliant! February 3, 2011 at 10:14 a.m. • Like Heba Yehia Amin Poobah for president! February 3, 2011 at 10:59 a.m. • Like • 2 Khaldoun Samman KHALDOUN: Wise kitty, I am so excited about all of these movements in Wisconsin, Tunisia, Egypt, and elsewhere. It seems like there is a vibrant pushback that is more interested in repelling what is the real danger to them and their families: the corporate, financial, and military industrial complex and the complete takeover of all aspects of our lives by the big fat cats we call the Hosnis of the world. POOBAH: Yes, you should be excited. There seems to be an awakening left populism that can realign political identities away from the destructive cultural divides that the fat cats want us to have instead. But beware, these fat cats have lots of tricks up their sleeves and own the airwaves and will do everything in their power to construct a “silent majority” who is under attack by “big union” or those bad Muslims. It is at moments like this that they will sharpen their hyperreal tools and inject everyday people with attractive sound bites so as to undermine these movements. KHALDOUN: So what should we do? POOBAH: Always expose the spokespeople of these fat cats, what they are trying to do, and keep them on the defensive. NEVER allow them to set the parameters of the debate; for they create parameters that are intended to divide us and make a portion of us act on their behalf to demoralize the movements. KHALDOUN: You’re so wise, Poobah. I love you. POOBAH: You’re okay too. -40-

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Like • Comment • Share • February 19, 2011 at 11:52 a.m. Sherrie Sage Hajek and Karen M. Gagne like this. Sol Neely true February 19, 2011 at 11:59 a.m. • Like Nicolas Veroli I have the title of your next next book, Khaldoun: Conversations with Poobah. I am really looking forward to it! February 19, 2011 at 1:03 p.m. • Like II. POOHBAH WISEKITTY ON ORIENTALISM Khaldoun Samman Suspicious activity? Call Abdullah at 1-800-Intifada

Like • Comment • Share • May 30, 2011 at 6:02 p.m. Willie Nour, Carina Bandhauer, and 3 others like this. Leah Bowe I’m suspicious . . . cuz that ain’t Poobah May 30, 2011 at 6:07 p.m. • Like


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Poohbah Wisekitty The fact that this costume can pass as a Halloween costume proves that Orientalism is spooky.

Like • Comment • Share • October 31, 2011 at 5:41 p.m. Elisabeth Ann Willmott and Karen M. Gagne like this. 1 share Poohbah Wisekitty Ornamentalism: To turn life into objects of representation.

Like • Comment • Share • January 5, 2011 at 11:21 a.m. Arabella Hundstad, Nachito Bryand-Rizzardi, Amy Ghiz, and 5 others like this


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Khaldoun Samman KHALDOUN: You know what I love about you and other animals? You seem to be immune from ideology, spectacle, and nationalism. You have such a direct relationship with your environment. Kind of reminds me of the early days of humans when our relationships, political, economic, and so on were immediate and real. POOBAH: Can you please hush up. There is this hot Persian babe on TV that I’d like to watch, if you don't mind! KHALDOUN: But, Poobah, you’re just a cat and haven’t evolved enough to be interpellated by these new social technologies? POOBAH: It’s funny how you think you are a critical/postcolonial theorist when in fact you continue the Orientalist tradition. You don’t even see it, do you?

Like • Comment • Share • January 30, 2011 at 10:58 a.m. 2 people like this. Khaldoun Samman POOBAH: Excuse me, Mr. classical social theorist. What do you have to say about the Egyptian Revolution? CLASSICAL SOCIAL THEORIST: Well, um, Oriental despotism and the Asiatic mode of production . . . POOBAH: Hold on, have you been chewing on catnip again? This has nothing to do with “their” social formation and everything to do with an American-led global formation that favors the fat (both Arab and Western) cats and represses us kitties scratching out a living!


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Like • Comment • Share • February 8, 2011 at 10:52 a.m. Reem El-Radi, Sherrie Sage Hajek and 2 others like this. Taous Claire Kazem I think you should write a book: “The World According to Poobah.” February 8, 2011 at 3:09 p.m. • Like • 1

III. POOHBAH WISEKITTY ON PALESTINE Khaldoun Samman “Netanyahu and all the U.S. Congressmen who shamelessly gave him and Apartheid a standing ovation can kiss my ass!”—Poobah Wisekitty

Like • Comment • Share • September 23, 2011 at 7:04 p.m. Arabella Hundstad, Fzz Elfilali, and 12 others like this.


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IV. POOHBAH WISEKITTY ON POWER AND KNOWLEDGE Khaldoun Samman POOBAH: Khaldoun, let’s do a practice run on how you should handle the media. Let’s say they ask you, “Professor, is the Arab Middle East ready for democracy?” How would you respond? KHALDOUN: Well, I’ll probably begin by saying, “Of course it is . . .” POOBAH: Stop right there! No, this is not how you do it. You have to turn the lens immediately when this comes up. Try saying, “Well, actually, we in the U.S. and elsewhere need to learn from them. You see, our political, educational, financial, and ideological institutions have been swallowed up also by the big fat cats. So this Egyptian revolution should be an inspiration for us to take ownership of our lives.” Do you see what I’m saying? KHALDOUN: That’s so scary; I might get shot if I say shit like that. POOBAH: Well, it’s time for you to speak your mind. Don’t let them fools censor you. KHALDOUN: Okay, I’ll try my best. But it’s easy for you to say, couch potato.

Like • Comment • Share • February 12, 2011 at 3:12 p.m. Sherrie Sage Hajek likes this.

V. POOHBAH WISEKITTY ON HOOKAH AND KANAFE Khaldoun Samman POOBAH: What the hell is this contraption? KHALDOUN: It’s my new baby hooka I use to smoke my double apple or melon flavored tobacco. POOBAH: Are you sure that’s all you use it for? KHALDOUN: You know, kitty, I am sick and tired of folks questioning me about what is in there. I’ve had police officers


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harassing me and suspecting some illegal substance, but you now are also doing this? POOBAH: Take it easy, dude. I was just smelling some catnip, that’s all.

Like • Comment • Share • March 19, 2011 at 12:06 p.m. Kelly Moeller Drazek, Luisa Miravitlles, and 5 others like this. Poobah Wisekitty Why is it that when you look at me, Khaldoun, I don't think you see me. You just see kanafe? Is it the orange top and white bottom?

Like • Comment • Share • June 22, 2011 at 12:09 p.m. Reem El-Radi and 3 others like this.


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VI. POOHBAH WISEKITTY ON ISLAMOPHOBIA Poobah Wisekitty Look at the way these Felinephobes respresent us. Go frak yoursef, racist!

Like • Comment • Share • June 22, 2011 at 5:16 p.m. Reem El-Radi, Fzz Elfilali, Judith Rochon, and 5 others like this. Saichairí Rián McGrath Perhaps the felinephobes should first look at what drives cats to do such attacks instead of generalizing all cats that way. June 22, 2011 at 7:48 p.m. • Like Tom Keating I think it just goes to show how little they know about cats—I give that getup about 5 feet or the nearest piece of furniture before it’s off and the cat is safely away. June 22, 2011 at 9:07 p.m. • Like • 1 Gayle De Sulima Aruta Timothy McVey look-alike? June 23, 2011 at 8:11 p.m. • Like • 1 Poobah Wisekitty Cats of the world, as we take back our voice on Facebook and elsewhere it is important to remember that even though there are humans who have nightmares every night thinking that more of us are born and want us cleansed from the streets and lands of this earth, there are incredible humans who we need to embrace and love, humans who are also struggling to create a more just world where humans, cats, and yes, even dogs, can live in peace and security. Go make alliances and always refuse turning this movement into a cat nationalist project.


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Like • Comment • Share • June 17, 2011 at 10:17 a.m. Ben Marcus, Lars Christiansen, Sarah E. West, and 10 others like this. Khaldoun Samman POOBAH: You sociologists crack me up. You think this Islamophobia is a response to “real” objective conditions, like globalization, the increase in immigration, space-time compression, and the loss of national identity, blah blah blah . . . Maybe it’s just as simple as some big ass jerks having access to the mike and pronouncing them Muslims as a problem? ME: How do you know this shit? POOBAH: Because I have a lot of experience with you humans blaming plagues and disease on us felines, collecting my buddies off the street and euthanizing them. You sick frakers!

Like • Comment • Share • January 27, 2011 at 11:42 a.m. Carina Bandauer and 11 others like this. David H. Amdur Dang someone is bemoaning the loss of their status as an ancient Egyptian deity. January 27, 2011 at 12:06 p.m. • Like -48-

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Taous Claire Khazem Poobah does it again. January 27, 2011 at 12:19 p.m. • Like Khaldoun Samman Yeah, but Poobah is so emotional that it gets in the way of her analysis. January 27, 2011 at 12:37 p.m. • Like • 2 Karen M. Gagne That’s a woman for you. January 27, 2011 at 12:53 p.m. • Like Khaldoun Samman She so purrrddy how can she not be a woman? January 27, 2011 at 3:00 p.m. • Like Steven Sherman Poobah should meet Subcomandante Marcos’s “penguin.” I’m sure they would get along. January 27, 2011 at 3:33 p.m. • Like • 1 Carina Bandhauer Poobah needs to write a book. January 27, 2011 at 8:28 p.m. • Like Willie Nour I can see this as a comic strip: “Poobah and Khaldoun” January 27, 2011 at 11:10 p.m. • Like • 1 VII. POOHBAH WISEKITTY ON THE #OCCUPY WALL STREET MOVEMENT Poobah Wisekitty To show my support to the #Occupy Wall Street People’s Movement, I’m going to #Occupy the Living Room.

Like • Comment • Share • October 25, 2011 at 9:30 p.m. Kelly Moeller Drazek, Arabella Hundstad, Carina Bandhauer, and 11 others like this. 1 share M


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andy young egyptian spring it begins with human wicks and ends with laughing women and an anklet-ed dove a wedding with a tank backdrop a wedding couple inking fingers at the first election it begins with a vegetable seller and ends with human wicks cross crescent unbelievers Christians circling Muslims praying circling praying Christians it begins with human wicks and ends with the martyr who died with a smile on his face it begins with the New Year’s bomb in the church it begins with Khaled Said’s face printed in papers beaten by cop thugs in daylight it ends with paper saved from burning that bomb was ordered by the Interior Ministry it begins with tens of thousands lining up no one claiming the martyr’s body everyone there to see its smile


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status for Khaled Mattawa The Rebels Take Ajdabiya, I read, my asthmatic son still awake. The rebels can take Misrata, with help. My other child is singing in the kitchen. Zenga zenga, Qaddafi said, house to house we will hunt them. My house needs a new roof, a slat for the hole in the steps. On Facebook, photo tags and pokes, a Day of Rage, word from Misrata’s medical staff: situation disastrous, a need for trauma surgeons, a thoracotomy set, anesthesia. I want to be a doctor, a cardiothoracic surgeon, I want to parachute in, to have the guts and know-how to stitch a shrapnel wound, save a limb. How even to get to Misrata? Ajdabiya? Rebel-town Benghazi, its greenblack-red flag stitched by hand, reel to reel tapes at Free Libya Radio yes how would I what could I bring to it, this child on my lap, this poem? M


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“bread. diGniTy. freedoM . . .”

The egyptian revolution from new orleans Andy Young The morning of the eighteenth day of the revolution, my husband Khaled and I were despondent. Mubarak had given his rambling, condescending, delusional remarks the evening before. And the one thing made clear within seconds of the opening of his highly anticipated speech was that he was not going anywhere. As had become my habit, I was constantly refreshing the Al Jazeera English blog, attempting to read it while simultaneously making myself sweet black Turkish coffee (which constituted a significant portion of my caloric intake at that point) and placating my two small children with their morning ritual of leben wa ‘asal, milk and molasses. I was looking for a scrap of news that might reveal a different outcome—a tweet by someone behind the scenes, a general’s candid remark about an impending coup—when I came across a picture of an Egyptian revolutionary. Captured in what turned out to be the dawn hours preceding Mubarak’s resignation, the photo had all the aspects of a saint on a holy card. There was peace, resignation, faith in his face. He had one hand raised to the heavens because his other arm was apparently broken, along with his ribs. This was the force the forces had to deal with, and it was unstoppable. The photograph had been sent in by Ghazala Irshad, a journalism student studying at the American University in Cairo, and I remember thinking it appropriate to the narrative of the revolution that it had been a student, and not a professional journalist, who had captured this emblematic moment. I tried to find hope in it, to search in myself for a scrap of the peace and courage I found there, but nothing. Instead I fixated on the details, the clean white edges of his bandages, the fizz of blue light unique to Egyptian twilight that made the building behind him a shadow. It was this image that carried me through, this man standing in for the faith I could not muster, until that historic moment just a few hours later. The dictator was finally stepping down. Now tears drip into our champagne cups. The champagne is for the revolution and its success. The tears have started again after we watched a YouTube video of the mother of Khaled Said celebrating. “Celebrating” is an odd word to use. She is smiling and happy but also crying and clutching a pillow with an image of her dead son. She opens her cell phone where an image of him shines back, and


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she kisses his face. Inasmuch as you can celebrate with a dead person, she is celebrating the victory with the son who, in effect, was the spark that set this fire blazing. Said was a 28-year-old blogger in Alexandria who was beaten to death by Mubarak’s police thugs in the summer of 2009. He had been sitting in an internet café when he was approached by plainclothes policemen who demanded his identification, dragged him to the street, and beat him against concrete steps in broad daylight. They then tried to pin his death on his having been a drug dealer. He had swallowed his stash, they said, and choked on it. The fact that the murder was witnessed, and that images of his badly mutilated face were displayed across the internet for all to see, made the flimsiness of their lies all the more insulting. My husband Khaled, our kids, and I were in Alexandria when it happened. We were staying in a beautiful, extremely dilapidated old building a few minutes’ walk from Alexandria University. One afternoon as I lay with the kids trying to get them to sleep, I heard shouts wafting on the salty air. It was not unusual for there to be protests around the university. In the five years I’d been visiting Egypt, these moments punctuated our lives. They would determine our route if we were visiting friends or heading to a coffee shop to do translation work any time around the Friday prayers. But, though I could not make out the content of the protestation this time, it felt different: bigger, angrier. No one knew that this was the beginning of the astounding events that were to unfold. At the time, the BP oil slick was spreading apocalyptically near our home in New Orleans. I was sick with it, my dreams filled with petroleum dread: piles of rotten turtles, tsunamis of black water. Khaled would go to Ramleh Station every few days and pick up his newspapers. And I would stare dumb at the covers of The Guardian: oiled pelicans, the figures for the amount pouring out from the ruptured well exploding exponentially as lies and misinformation surfaced. Once a week or so I’d justify the cost of the imported paper, which was the cost of a meal for us and a whole group of friends, to read the by-then outdated horror. But no one was thinking about New Orleans but me. I have always been impressed with Egyptian engagement in politics and current events. Despite the now-famous repressions of the government, it always seemed that my Egyptian friends were far more informed and interested in what was going on in the world than my American friends. It was not unusual for someone to bring up a political player or piece of legislation from my own country of which I was not aware. So I was shocked and a little depressed that no one was talking about the oil, even as it seeped into my every


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thought and, for the first time, rattled my commitment to the city that I had called home for thirteen years. Not even Katrina had done that. In fact, it had done the opposite. But now I had kids, and I wondered if it was right to expose their young bodies to something so unfathomable and dangerous. And in Alexandria, no one even knew what I was talking about. My friend Abdou told me, when I brought up my preoccupation with the disaster, “The only thing anyone is thinking about now is Khaled Said.” It was consuming the consciousness of Alexandria. Sadly, his story was not really that unusual. Under Mubarak’s Egypt, people were regularly abused, tortured, disappeared, or killed if they threatened the regime. The abuses were usually justified by the pronouncement of the victim as drug-dealing or insane. But there was something about this man’s death that struck a nerve. It was particularly chilling to think that I spent many an afternoon in Alexandria’s internet cafés trying to keep up with news and in touch with family back home. This could have happened right next to me. Also unnerving was the fact that Said was so similar to many of the guys with whom we hung out in our time in Alexandria. Young, unable to find work, he spent his time on the internet, and, it turns out, quietly agitating and resisting the very abuses that would ultimately kill him. His last post was a video of police, ironically enough in light of the accusations pinned to Said, distributing profits from a drug deal. He was a regular Egyptian guy who wanted basic freedoms and was willing to take great risks to achieve them. In other words, he was emblematic of the revolution. That there were no clear leaders in the revolution, a fact that agitated and worried Western pundits, was the very beauty and power of it. It was not a radical few on the fringe who toppled this government. In fact, they were all Khaled Said. “We are all Khaled Said” is the name of the mostly English-language Facebook page that has provided much of my daily news of the resistance. The now-famous Arabic version of the same name helped to launch the revolution. While the English-language administrator is still anonymous, the world now knows that Wael Ghonim, a Google executive, was the previously anonymous Arabic administrator; his identity was revealed after his disappearance and blindfolded twelve-day detention. It is on this page that we watch Said’s mother clutching his pillow, crying and laughing, hugging the people who come in and out from the balcony where, below, the new Egypt is erupting in joy. For us, the revolution has been the only thing happening these last two and a half weeks. Videos and images have helped us to feel connected to Egypt, but we’ve also had to find ways to get through


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the day here at home. One evening, a few days after the January 25th beginning, when tens of thousands more protesters than expected showed up on the streets, I joked with Khaled that clearly it was the real and promised revolution. The evidence was in one of the most shocking sights of all: Egyptians were picking up trash. During our visits to Egypt, I had never understood the propensity of Egyptians to litter. Even Khaled would drop a wrapper in the street without a thought, an act he would never commit at home. People’s homes, however humble, were always fastidiously clean and cared for. Yet the streets were filled with garbage one had to step around. In Bahari, the fishing section of Alexandria that is our favorite part of the city, we stayed in an apartment overlooking the Mediterranean, spread out in all its roiling, changing glory. Outside the apartment building, refuse filled the street, trash bins were overflowing, and cats were scrounging through the piles for their food. Trying to teach my child to take responsibility for her own messes was pretty much impossible when surrounded by her Egyptian family who casually tossed trash out of train windows or in the street. I’ve always been mystified by this, as it seemed so out of tune with the generous, non-imposing spirit of the Egyptians I know. Now I get it. The streets were not theirs. Today they are. And as we watched the truly incredible explosion of bravery and pride and pent-up aspirations of the Egyptians taking back their country, here were the men and women of the revolution, the same Egyptians who probably tossed their Molto wrapper or newspaper down onto the same street a month ago, lovingly cleaning the streets when the space temporarily cleared of demonstrators. It was their country now. Before, it had only been Mubarak’s. Our joke was to call him saahbi, “my friend.” Or, at least, it was my joke when I first visited Egypt in 2005 to work with a group of artists and writers to form Meena, our bilingual Arabic/English literary series. Khaled and I were trying to create a much-needed “port of entry” between our cultures (“meena” means “port” in Arabic). Of the many culture shocks I experienced on that first visit, one of the most persistent was the omnipresence of Hosni Mubarak’s huge face. His gush was plastered everywhere: on street corners, train stations, brick walls by a market. He was inescapable. And he always looked, to me, like he was smelling something. Something, maybe, not so pleasant. Perhaps it was the whiff of revolution that would erupt years later. It translated as a look of indignation, even disgust, and I found this face, and its pervasiveness, extremely disconcerting. In the U.S., we don’t usually see such in-your-face images of our leaders except at election time, when they are not yet our leaders.


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The other writers and I would meet for hours upon hours in coffee shops, smoking shisha, drinking tea or sweet black coffee, in order to iron out our translations and decide on the order of what would be our first issue. Because the face would accompany us wherever we met, I began to mention it, uncomfortably, as if trying to nod to an uninvited and annoying member of the group in order to get an explanation. Or to see if anyone else noticed. It was somehow understood that we did not mention his name a lot, or directly reference the pervasive hatred of him. My instincts led me to come up with a code name, hence saahbi, as in “Oh, I see saabi has come to join us,” or “it seems things smell bad for saahbi here, too.” I don’t know that anyone thought it was funny but me, but my actual friends played along. I realize, now, that it was nervous humor. I was uncomfortable. My animal instincts sensed the danger represented by this forced encounter with such a hated man. And he was, as he is now, pretty much universally hated. I wondered how someone could not know that. Or how one could know that he was hated and somehow want to stir that emotion by waving his image, constantly, in people’s faces. Silly, naive me. I had never been to a dictatorship before. And though my husband Khaled had suffered as a journalist there and in fact left because of the repression, and though my new friends were all in some way involved in some kind of activism and resistance to the status quo, I just didn’t get it. I thought of dictatorships as gray, cold countries where people peered nervously from cracks in doors, not U.S. allies visited by Americans and Europeans for luxury vacations. Though I knew, logically, that elections were rigged and that martial law was a constant reality, I could not line that up with the outrageous outpourings of generosity, humor, and artistic expression I encountered every moment. Thus, I was hurt and perplexed when I heard that one of the artists I had met was suspicious that I was a spy working for my government. Perhaps more people thought this, but he was honest enough to let me know. It took a while to earn his trust, to show him (and maybe others) that I was genuinely interested in sharing a dialogue, in rendering Arabic voices into English. Now I see how pervasive the fear was, how deeply the people were pitted against one another, and how it was actually a natural suspicion for someone who was unaccustomed to not only free expression but genuine interest in Egypt’s living people and not just the ancient artifacts. Now I see that the quiet conversations, punctuated by laughter, which happened over the puffs of smoke and steam of tea and under the watchful eye of saahbi, were the prelude to this huge explosion unfolding before our eyes. And now that image is nowhere to be found. And the most memorable image of -56-

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the image I have now is of men climbing scaffolds to tear it down with their bare hands. The revolution, as riveting and inspiring as it is, is hard on family life. It does not support personal or domestic hygiene. For days the kids were grubby, their hair unbrushed; their mother’s clothes were stained, and their father’s face unshaven. Dishes piled in the sink, and our diet was haphazard, at best. Khaled was living on tea and smoke. When some of the mobile phone lines were up again after being blocked for days, Khaled had reached our friend Ehab in Tahrir Square, who was in good spirits but said food was running out in downtown Cairo. Down in Waneena, Khaled’s village of Upper Egypt, his family complained of bread shortages. After that phone call, he stopped eating and subsisted on shisha smoke and endless cups of tea for about five days. One day he cooked us a stuffed chicken, complete with sides, so that he could be sure the kids and I would eat even if he refused. Often we woke at three or four in the morning to check the news. This is when the midday prayers were over and the demonstrations began in full force. Some nights Khaled set an alarm. Most nights we just took turns keeping a kind of unspoken vigil. The worst of these was after Al Jazeera’s reporters had been attacked and banned. Screens had been set up in the square that showed raw, unmitigated live streaming of what was going on there and throughout the country. Al Jazeera said they would now have “eighty million reporters” as they opened the airways to broadcast footage from whoever could record and capture the unfolding events. Nile TV, the regime’s now infamous information apparatus, showed quiet streets and bridges, palm tree leaves tossing gently in the wind. As the country erupted, the images offered delusional assurances that all was well. In the square, the Al Jazeera screens showed the protesters that their efforts were being witnessed. Indeed, on the other side of the world, we kept the live stream going in a pop-up window on both of our screens, occasionally calling each other from work to see if the other was watching what was unfolding. Often it was me calling to ask what was being said by the breathless, weeping person who was calling in to one of the channel’s open phone lines. The screens also showed that those in the square were not alone. Images of uprisings in Mahalla, Alexandria, Suez, and elsewhere were flashed on the screens, encouraging the weary revolutionaries. On the outside we watched, witnesses, a position that was particularly difficult for Khaled, who longed to be part of what he’d wished for his entire adult life. In one of the interviews for the news—he had become a kind of representative Egyptian for local media—he spoke of a sense of guilt that his generation had not -57-

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carried out the revolution first and thereby save the current one from the martyrdom that was taking place. It’s not that simple, of course. Part of what made the revolution possible is the fact that the very recent phenomena of social networking helped to enable it. And anyway, had the previous generation managed to pull it off, there would have been martyrs then, too, perhaps more, because there were not the screens to witness it. But Khaled’s love of Egypt is emblematic of the larger culture’s sense of pride and generosity that, in part, fueled the revolution. Being a witness can be a profoundly uncomfortable position. The word itself speaks to its sense of passivity, of watching but being unable to engage with what is being seen. The night after Mubarak sent his posse of thugs on camel- and horse-back, armed with machetes through the square, was such a moment. Things were getting more and more horrifying. The protesters were digging up asphalt, their only available weapon, from under their feet and shielding their heads with cooking pots and crushed water bottles. As the sun went down, Molotov cocktails flashed down from the roofs of government buildings onto the crowds. Khaled and I tried to get through the day, separately—separately nauseous and zombie-like. I developed a click in my jaw from the tension. Our kids, one and three years old, could not understand the intermittent tears and palpable tension. Tiba, the three-yearold, began to ask questions: “Why do they want that man to go? Did he stay too long?” And she joined us in the streets of New Orleans to rally and chant. One of the finest memories I’ll likely have of this time was of her teaching her ukulele teacher to say, “Down with the regime,” in Arabic. But how does one explain why her father is not eating? How to explain the fear of mass murder, that one’s unarmed friends are about to be attacked or annihilated by armed militia? After we finally got them to bed, we sat in front of our screens and tried to see through the darkness what was happening, but all we could make out were the flashes of live ammunition being fired into the crowd. At one point, I had to mute the sound of the gunshots, though I could not tear my eyes from the small bursts of light that might have seemed beautiful if I had not known the context. And all Khaled wanted was to be there. Had he been able to get there, I don’t know that I could have let myself stop him. I understood, after all. In the two and a half weeks of exile from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, all we wanted was to be home. When that proved impossible, we simply wanted to be with other people who wanted to be there, or at least with others who were thinking about it. There was nothing else. It is hard to explain to someone why you are annoyed that they are talking about -58-

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everyday life. No one gives a shit about your slipping transmission or your tender steak, you think, but it is not their fault that life continues. The last few weeks, I’ve recognized this thinking and started to identify it as “disaster mind.” There is a dreamlike quality to it; one is mesmerized by news and images from the disaster. There is the urge to be inside it. When we saw images of the floating rooftops and stranded hordes on the news during the Katrina saga, it seemed unreal, impossible. Maybe staring at it made us think that we could somehow understand it. Maybe turning our back on it and entering normal life meant that we were somehow betraying it. In any case, we had to remain glued to the drama, even though watching it did not make it make any more sense. Lately there has been that same sense of disbelief when we’ve seen images of the sea of humanity along Alexandria’s corniche, almost as astonishing and vast as the Mediterranean beside it. That’s our Alexandria, that’s the spot on the wall where the kids climbed to look at the fishermen pulling in their nets. See where the barricades are? That’s the palace just down from Ashraf’s house. It’s the same, familiar disbelief: a new reality painted onto the old, but this time it was a country’s dream bursting into view. Of course, that view was often clouded by tear gas, with canisters that read Made in the U.S.A. There is nothing shocking about this; we all know that the U.S. has been Egypt’s biggest military supporter for years. And how many bombs have been dropped with those same words engraved somewhere on the casing? But rarely do people have the opportunity to examine a bomb casing. These canisters have filled the streets day after day. Tunisians had advised their Egyptian counterparts to place onions in their scarves and to flush their eyes with Pepsi. Their origin was hardly the issue. And yet, I can’t help but think of how many have picked up these little cans of poison and seen that phrase. Maybe some of our friends, even. Maybe some who would be. In Khaled, I have always seen the face of Egypt. His is a full-lipped mouth ready to laugh. His skin is the copper of ancient coins, his eyes dark as the fertile soil along the Nile. Our children are the blending of our cultures, and in them I see the physical manifestation of the way we connect. I have worried, of course, for how Arabic and English can live together in their mouths and minds. I have worried that one day they will be ridiculed for their names or their heritage. But mostly they are as reassuring as treaties, little flags of the best we both can be. Trying to bridge the huge gaps between our cultures and languages has always been a big part of Khaled’s and my relationship. Each night during the revolution, we’d have what I came to -59-

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think of as a “debriefing.” Most of the time this involved his explaining to me who was who in power—the vast difference, for example, between the riot police and the soldiers, or, later, the ins and outs of who was hired to ride those camels through the square to attack people. The news in English was often many hours, even days, behind Arabic news. So he would catch me up, translating images and explaining some of the background of the corrupt players of the ruling party and their buddies. I tried to share what I could of these debriefings in conversations or obsessive Facebook updates for those who might be interested. But there were moments that really defied quick explanations. One of the more outrageous accusations the regime directed at the protesters was that they were being funded by outside forces and that this was evident in their consumption of Kentucky Fried Chicken. KFC was being cast as the ultimate symbol of imperialism as well as proof that the protesters were being bankrolled. A meal from KFC might cost fifty pounds, or nearly $10, which would buy an enormous amount of, say, koshari, the ubiquitous street food of lentils and pasta. The protesters were eating it, said the regime, and therefore they were working for America and Israel. It became a kind of joke. “This is my Kentucky,” said the men in one video, disheveled from days in the square, holding out chunks of bread. Another photo that circulated was of the hated police force with boxes of KFC, devouring the contents. The photo was subversive, but the context that makes it so was not evident if you did not know the story. In truth, the KFC near Tahrir Square was turned into a makeshift clinic for the injured and Hardee’s was used to hand out free cheese and bread. Propaganda is always part of a revolution on both sides. I must admit that I am terribly seduced by YouTube videos with collages of revolutionary moments set to music. While I have some moral twinges with the aestheticizing of violence, I find it irresistible watching these emblematic moments now that I know the outcome of that particular fight. The men sleeping, draped like cats over the tank’s apparatus, the injured man lying in the street screaming that he will die for his country, the men who bend and pray as the water tanks spray them mercilessly with hoses. What is missing is the fear and difficulty of the day-to-day struggle, the difficulty, for example, of sleeping or using the bathroom while encamped with hundreds of thousands of people. The realities of trying to feed your family as the economy of a country grinds to a halt. We have begun to get messages and videos from our friends in Alexandria and Cairo, kind of wish-you-were-heres describing the jubilation in the streets. I tell Ehab that I can’t wait to hear about his experiences when we meet again in the new Egypt. “Deal!” he -60-

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writes. “Just come.” Khaled has connected with him and with other friends by phone, though he says he has yet to speak to anyone because no one can stop crying long enough to have a conversation. Who knows what the new Egypt will look like, how different the streets will feel when we return. The economy is in tatters, and things will likely be tough for our friends and family for a long, long time. Remnants of the regime remain in power in the cabinet and in the country’s provinces. The hard work of creating a truly democratic election must be done in a matter of months. And the money from the country’s infrastructure embezzled by hated members and friends of the regime such as the reviled steel and iron tycoon Ahmed Ezz must be, hopefully, recouped and reinvested into jobmaking ventures. One of the YouTube videos making the rounds now shows a shadowy alley outside of a prison. The person filming, one of the police force, keeps repeating, “Hide me! Hide me! I want to film this. Please hide me!” The image, taken from a vantage point behind the backs of his comrades, shows Ezz, flanked by officers, being walked into prison. The rallying cry now is for everyone to come out and build the new Egypt. Images of a woman in a wheelchair painting an iron fence, of a man holding a tray of wallets to be reclaimed by the protesters who lost them, of men replacing the stones in Tahrir Square that had been dug up by the embattled protesters, all testify to the work ahead and to those willing to carry it out. Again, I am reminded of our own chosen home, of the difficult months and years after Katrina, the lack of infrastructure such as bus or educational systems or a reliable postal service, the lack of jobs and our precarious future. I remember how many people doubted that we could rebuild at all. While there is still work to do here, including the creation of a truly fortified levee system that could protect us from the same thing happening again, the residents of New Orleans, those of us who remained or returned, as well as a wave of new residents who are overwhelmingly civically engaged young people, are invested in this city. And we continue to create the place we want to live in, regardless of whether anyone else has faith in us or not. I think of this as I watch the video collages of martyrs, at least two of whom were young children, that have begun to circulate on Facebook, and the survivors celebrating wildly in the streets. The revolution has been extensively televised, and the images and accounts of it will continue to rivet me even as its repercussions unfold. For now, though, I leave Khaled Said’s mother freezeframed, her pillow clutched to her breast, and lift my last sip of champagne to the revolutionary saint before closing the screen that he fills. M


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Tasnim Qutait The Purple hitler Mustache the day the purple Hitler mustache appeared on the Brother Leader’s face the school shut down. anxious teachers swinging rubber hoses herded students down empty hallways into a midday sun and pulled pockets out like gray washed out wings shoulders drooped, the student body become a numb, dumb chrysalis a conspiracy of ignorance until the principal’s forehead buckled under the strain of silence his bald patch matched the broadening patch of sweat on his back he shuffled down the rows, a sad elephant peering into the eyes of his pupils looking for terror and a purple crayon.


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our death out of the thousandfold souls this spring has harvested— no, no more spring metaphors of lambs and slaughter and fields, beloved earth ruyat quenched by dam shuhadana this insult to the bloodthirst of nature this avalanche of images in shaking hands recording: another last breath another lost son another murder another exhaled shahada war is random, so tell me another story full of heroes saturated by the ritual osmosis of terror deaths eroding our empathy streets running with blood, ink dwindling out of these thousands, one death was ours, one to claim, and now the death of death is an abomination faces fading into forever invisible memorials desecrated by entropy death after death after death and a storm of locusts scythes through my head harvesting memories faster than I can store them.


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sleepless not asleep but sleepless since they butchered the sheep and left us counting losses stripped dreams like soiled bedsheets and left the beds bare as plywood caskets ever ready to hide our bodies borderless bodies, unfinished and open, dreaming out of turn out of imagination we sought sanctuary in a siesta for our soul where the sun sets fire to promises and the broken streets chide destiny for wandering the passersby have cupped hands full of myth running like water through the decades of their fingers drinking the exhausted past, stones lodged in their mouth for moisture in the small hours television screens flicker over an army of insomniacs on balconies smoke curling up in question marks fingernail crescent unearthing constellations digging a warren of desperate tunnels in the palm of the night sky, life lines displacing the stars. I thought the mouth to mouth of stories was dead the last storyteller a mute shell, giving us back the lethargic circuit of our life’s blood in mockery I thought now in our once upon a time there was only a woodpecker knocking on dead wood searching for our flatlined heartbeat


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open sesame: hand me down dreams hoarded pride that rankled, enough blame to feed a famine and no treasure but inherited resignation tongues glued to the enclave of mouths a moebius strip of silence pushing back the seeds of teeth now the shoot that mumbled and muttered in its deaf language has uncurled, shot out of the open O of mouths like a river of sound breaking every barrier dreaming every dream


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winter Train Once upon a time there were trains in Libya, You tell me that story across a machine That bleeps over phones to confirm e-ticket purchase We pay in paper money. After 1969, the trains disappeared Mythical creatures like dragons Leaving their tracks in the long-memoried earth. The ticket woman goes away. In motion, the train window plays a black and white movie White fields, fence posts and telephone poles, Kaleidoscope of clefs and staves. Half a hemisphere away, you pluck out a piece of the homeland, Your memory, a head wound that never heals, finds music and menace in a windowful of snow: The paper scored one way so your eyes can’t stray, The hollow notes nooses just waiting for an outstretched neck. Once, you too recited rote-learned sycophancy Young face among many in school-uniformed ranks Lined up under the usurper’s unimaginative flag White shirts wilting under the gaze of his Gold-framed portrait, Made of tin, your vocal cords didn’t vibrate. You mimed it, imagined Your silence in the chanting was magical Breaking their arrangement into a Kaleidoscope of black sprouting seeds, Scattered over a railway that stretches on forever


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The trees were still leafless here when Newborn chants broke the mad orchestra In the dead garden we held out leathery Libyan money And with cupped hands we shielded the flames that Incinerated the Brother Leader’s face The notes curled to burned embers on the ground Autumn requiem for a coming Libyan spring. M


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leila Tayeb libya from new york, september 2011 Libya. “Libya nadit Libya nadit wahna labeina nida”1 Libya called. We answered. I did pick up the phone. But it was to call Libya. And for a while there was no answer. Phone lines cut, internet down, everyone extra scared to talk over the phone, on Facebook. Suddenly all of my cousins had aliases: Black Wolf, Reblion, everyone’s last names replaced with “Libya.” We are all Libya. We are all Libyans. This phrase new in my mouth, new to hear from the mouths of so many the name of this place, my father’s place, the one he abandoned so long ago. He abandoned it. Not the other way round. Or he tried. But the people. This is not my place. These are my people. My people? No, these are people. Absent limbs, holes through skulls, wrists bound, spine limp, broken, suffocated, so much blood. Irretrievable. Tiny bodies, crumpled parents. I went to class. I tried to read, to focus. Gave myself sincerely to discussions of intercultural performance, racial discourses of life philosophy, ephemerality, and embodiment. But these bodies took me. I didn’t have of myself to give. Salem, Hawa, Fatima, Adam; aged 15, 11, 7, and 3. Their father’s soft breath and quiet voice blurred the pages in front of me. I walked alongside him with slow determination through the corridors of the Hikma Hospital in Misrata. We leapt into action as a newly injured child was rushed in, surrounded on more sides than seemed possible by shouting adults. Each one who died summoned again the single moment that took Fatima, Adam, Hawa, and Salem, burnt bodies melted together in a final repulsive union. I stared at the pages, oxygen neither entering nor escaping my lungs, ears ringing with these four children’s names in the pitch of Lutfiya’s voice. Her husband had begged her not to look.


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“You can’t take our freedom or take our soul Take our freedom or take our soul You are not the one that’s in control You are not the one that’s in control I said, la illaha ill allah No power’s greater than God’s Go ahead and devise your plans At the end of the day You are just a man”2 Alarm, grief supplemented with determination. It became clear that there was no turning back. What might happen? Two countries? A war that would continue for years? Was it really worth it? Was Gaddafi really so bad? These were not Libyans’ questions. No family without its own story—or ten—prison, hanging, disappearance, sudden changes of “fate” controlled by a certain whimsical violence. How does one grieve in the middle of a revolution? The chant was everywhere: dam ashuhada ma yimsheesh haba. The blood of the martyrs will not run in vain. The synthesized nay floats in smoothly, guided by reassuringly rhythmic piano chords. No words at first, but the voice. Voices. Echoing in solidarity, they hang loyally onto the nay’s melody. It is a song of reassurance, a moment that needed reassurance, perhaps not unlike this one. But so different from this one. It is a song for Misrata, medinat assumoud, the city that can withstand. “shedi il‘azim ya Misrata sabrak ani jay mashallah ‘aleikum rajala wa nasr jay jay”3 Victory. Is coming. Came. Still eludes us. When is it “over”? Of course it’s not. And for now people are busy, bursting with ideas and energy. The same cousins whose silence left my chest heavy with dread suddenly have much to say—in words, drawings, photographs. It seems as though I have never seen so many flags. There are too many questions to ask. And it’s a strange feeling—to want to be in the midst, consumed by collectivity, as if propelled by a teal wave, caught just at the right moment, yet an equally strong desire to navigate, to let drop a paddle in the water and steer a bit, leaning just enough to taste the salt of a light spray without capsizing.


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She tells us: “arfa‘ rassik foug inta libi hurr”4 Raise your head high You are a free Libyan But I want to dunk mine in the water a bit, come up full with adrenaline and the rush of cold brain cells and earlobes. Maybe that’s a yearning specific to diaspora. It’s not mine, so I might only sip it, hope to remember its taste later, when that thirst appears again. Wonder if I capture a bottle, bring it home with me, if it might expand, double and quadruple its volume without dilution. But it might just as well evaporate, this revolution juice with its indecipherable ingredient list. Does it leave behind salt? Sugar? A soft powder reminiscent of bazeen? Tomorrow I go. Set out on a vigorously planned and still very uncertain journey toward Libya. The possibility in tomorrow lends so much energy to today. M


1Asma Salim, “Libya Nadit” 2Khaled M ft. Lowkey, “Can’t

Take Our Freedom” Ya Mesrata”

3Salah Ghali & Tamim, “Shedy Al Azem 4Asma Salim, “Arfa‘ Rassik Foug”


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dina omar epithalamium: a Zaffah Kullou la umma tifrah wa tet’henna Roosh il wasa’id bil ‘uttur wa’il henna1 Meely meely2 A hundred years ago Young women becoming brides Would walk on a path paved with Tongues of women’s gossip On trails of green and red vines Squishing grapes between toes The sound of my village Ramoun Is my brother’s wedding My sister’s henna My cousin’s engagement and There is something about A crowd of crooning Ramamnah Singing to sway apple trees Beckoning the attention of olives Meely meely Il ah shajarat il toofah3 Where I come from Family members have the burden Find a good man from a good family A good woman from the same neighborhood Love to village folks Is as simple as an exchange of glances Cups of tea and salat il’istekhair No need for dating and heartache Aunties and grandmas do all the Weeding out for you


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There is magic In preparing a bride I go through this with cousins and sisters With distant relatives and good friends We explore our obsession with waxing Contemplate underwear and lingerie And find new ways to fit into dresses After trying on hundreds There is a song for family traveling in from everywhere Falesteen, Texas, Dearborn, New Jersey, New York, Canada, Uncles forced to celebrate after Years of not speaking for forgotten reasons Anticipate the gathering of gold The preparing of the henna The spraying of pillows with perfume The singing randomly in halls kitchens bathrooms and The misplaced feet that practice debka Meely meely Il ah shajarat il zaytoon4 There is a grace about designing A thobe, choosing the color of thread embroider A path the thread takes over your body About the women in your family dressing you Getting your hair done with 15–20 of your closest female relatives It is about the young women in your family sleeping next to each other on one bed Just to sense the nearness of each other’s familiar skin Because we know once one of us gets married it will never be the same There is an aroma about grandma’s mixing henna With perfect portions of dark tea, black coffee, and leymon There is something about them waking early in the morning to Knead the henna to the perfect mud consistency Scoop into platters, plastic chalices from Wal-Mart, and Styrofoam cups Decorating them with organza and bright ribbon There is something about the zaffah


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Meely meely, Il ah shajarat il sar’ees5 Dressing the ‘aroos in her thobe and her slitcha That never stays on the head right It’s about the older women singing out in the air and We the younger women repeating the same like Echo their voice the cadence of their clapping Soars above a tablah Hands and palms swollen red Cuz we been making music By colliding skin for centuries For sahrahs and the hennas It is the loud base and the reverberation of sitto’s zaghareet The bodies bursting Shifting in motion The palms resounding in unison The thuds The clapping The clapping The clapping in harmony Above the violin the tablah the flute Above the songs and sweaty bodies elegantly dressed Women step out of their designer shoes Place them beside the stage and Dance some more


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Letting go Of their own inhibitions Of all the pent-up joy in our community Because we are too busy burying the dead Too busy dealing with checkpoints and pain that We forget to Celebrate our selves Stomping and kicking and thudding in perfect chaos The Palestinian flag waving above The pit of people who yell yallah yallah During debka il’ shabab wa’a nesat Stomping pulsating in the space Where decendants of men Who cultivated land, tilled crops, and founded villages Intersect with the lifeline and destiny of women Who squished grapes between toes These women remold wedding hymns into fighting songs Kulloulhum nirja ‘ala bladna Nidhan il’ hyoot fee ‘arak wa’ demna6 M

______________________ sung during Palestinian weddings. “Tell the mother of the bridegroom to celebrate and be joyous / to sprinkle the pillows with perfume and henna.” 2Swaying of trees. 3Sway the apple trees. 4Sway the olive tree. 5Sway the green almond tree. 6“Tell them that we will return home / we’ll paint the walls with our sweat and our blood.” 1Lyrics


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The eye will resisT



R. Abusahan With my nose pressed up against history’s fleeting present, I find myself unable to fully grasp the stunning events collectively referred to as the “Arab Spring.” Sure, I follow the news from Tunis to Sana’a. I weep at the bloody YouTube footage out of Homs and cheer with the multi-sectarian crowds in Tahrir Square. But I don’t know what all this means, nor where it will lead. I recall feeling the same strange mix of hope and apprehension at the birth of the first Intifada; for like every Arab, I have an intimate understanding of tyranny. I know how oppression bulldozes humanity like so much rubble in Gaza. I’ve heard anguished young men plead, “Kirmal Allah,” until their voices died as they were tortured in Beirut. I have seen the scars of the Mukhabarat’s sadism on the body of Iraqis. What the conspiracy-minded Middle Eastern in me does not understand is where this will lead and whose agenda will usurp this “Arab Spring.” “The eye cannot resist an awl,” declares one Arabic aphorism. Most Arabs identify with the defenselessness of the eye. We know our history well. We’ve experienced brutality collectively and individually from “civilized” occupiers and “civilized nations”–backed regimes. In lonely terror, we’ve appealed to the magic of an impotent deity and apathetic powers. The current mass resistance may be celebrated by the perpetually distracted Western media, but it is not the first to be quashed. For far too long, the mukhabarat, the term used by Arabs to refer to internal spying agencies, prevented any dissent. Their goal was to keep dissenters isolated. They sowed mistrust in Orwellian fashion: even one’s relatives became suspect if they spoke up against the regime. In the dark dank shadows of such absolute power festered ugly societal ills, while the state apparatus lived high on the hog off of our resources. It is rumored that during his rule, Saddam Hussein staged a few false-flag coups d’état against his own administration to test the loyalty of his entourage. In some Arab capitals, three people gathering in public could be considered a demonstration, requiring a permit. Human life is cheap. Freedom is just another word. It is time to air our dirty laundry in order to make sense of this transformation in the Arab psyche. Somehow, the current generation was able to sublimate their internalized terror into hope. Some credit technology, Al Jazeera, or social media. Others are quick to declare the triumph of “Western values.” Whatever the case may be, our paralysis is evidently reversible.


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A little over a year ago, helpless despair was the final refuge for Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian fruit and vegetable vendor. He was bullied by the system, spat on by officials, and his fruit stand, his only source of livelihood, repeatedly confiscated. He lit a match to his gasoline-soaked body. His self-immolation, not unlike that of many suicide bombers before him, might have been destined to be a wasted scream for change. Yet this time the spark took. The rubber wall that previously absorbed every blow unscathed, suddenly gave in. Tunisians took to the streets. They reclaimed a rudimentary evolutionary tenet in life: strength in numbers. Lulled by its own excesses, the system was caught off guard and it fell. The same repression, injustice, and impotent isolation drove many like Bouazizi into the streets, not to honor another death, but to reclaim their very humanity. “Al Sha‘b . . Yurid . . . Isqat . . . al Nizam.” Their demand rang out over and over: “The People . . . Want . . . to Eject . . . the Regime.” It was the cry in the background of Western media reports, and in the foreground of shaky phoneuploaded YouTube videos. One can even discern in what region the footage was filmed simply by listening to the accents of the mantra. Egyptian chants were somewhat melodious, with the first word pronounced, “ishSha‘b.” Bahrainis, like other Gulf residents, stressed the patrician “zh” in “nizam.” Meanwhile, the “qaf” in “isqat” was definitely more fervent in Syrian renditions. The success of the Arab Spring seems to be the result of the victory of Arab altruism over helplessness. It’s a triumph of browbeaten isolated spirits in finding a community. The genie is now out of the bottle. We Arabs know our history well. The genie had to be tricked to get himself back into the bottle. We should know all stops will be pulled out by those who benefit from the status quo in order to reverse any gains. This is another generation to pay in tears and blood for that elusive liberty. New fallible technologies may help them communicate better and faster, yet they can be circumvented. Meanwhile, it pays to heed the moral of the old fable: no one else but the genie has the power to force himself to retreat into the repression of days past. M


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ConTribuTors R. Abusahan is a Lebanese-American writer, health care professional, and beekeeper. He was born in Beirut, where he grew up during the Lebanese Civil War. He now calls Minnesota home and lives in the Twin Cities. Maimouna Alammar is a graduate student working on her master's degree in computer science at Damascus University. She lives with her husband and child in the suburb of Daraya. John Asfour is the author of five volumes of poetry in English, the most recent of which is Blindfold. He is the editor and translator of the anthology, When the Words Burn: An Anthology of Modern Arabic Poetry. A former professor of literature residing in Montreal, Canada, Dr. Asfour has recently published Vancouver V6A: an Anthology of Writings from the Downtown Eastside, and Metamorphosis of Ishtar, by Nadine Ltaif. Andrea Assaf, founder and Artistic Director of Art2Action, is a writer, performer, director, and cultural organizer. She has a master’s degree in performance studies (NYU). Recent awards include the 2011 NPN Creation Fund commission, 2010 Princess Grace Award–Theater, and 2007 Hedgebrook residency. Memberships include CAATA board of directors, Alternate ROOTS, and RAWI. Angele Ellis is the author of Spared (Main Street Rag, 2011) and Arab on Radar (Six Gallery Press, 2007). A 2008 recipient of a poetry fellowship from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, she won Pittsburgh Filmmakers’ 2009 G-20 Haiku Contest and third prize in the 2007 RAWI Competition for Creative Prose. Hedy Habra was born in Egypt and is of Lebanese origin. She received her MFA and a Ph.D. in Spanish literature from Western Michigan University, where she currently teaches. Her poetry and fiction in French, Spanish, and English appear in many journals including Puerto del Sol, The New York Quarterly, Nimrod, and Poet Lore and anthologies such as Inclined to Speak, Poetic Voices Without Borders 2, and Dinarzad’s Children 2. Her collection of short fiction, Flying Carpets, is forthcoming from March Street Press, and her book, Mundos alternos y artísticos en Vargas Llosa, is forthcoming from Iberoamericana/Vervuert. Mohja Kahf moved to the United States in 1971. Her family has been involved in Syrian opposition politics, a theme reflected in the life of her character Khadra of The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf. She received her Ph.D. in comparative literature from Rutgers University and is an associate professor of comparative literature at the King Fahd Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.


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Remi Kanazi is a poet and writer based in Brooklyn. He is the editor of Poets For Palestine and author of the newly released collection of poetry, Poetic Injustice: Writings on Resistance and Palestine. His poetry has taken him across North America, the United Kingdom, and the Middle East, and has appeared in the Palestine Festival of Literature as well as Poetry International. He is a recurring writer in residence and advisory board member for the Palestine Writing Workshop. Hassan Mekouar (Ph.D. Brown University, 1977) teaches American literature at Mohammed V University in Rabat, Morocco. His professional career includes periods as English department chair, faculty dean, and university president. Between 1999 and 2007 he printed several collections of poetry in English. Three of his poems appeared in one of the early volumes of Mizna. Dina Omar is a Palestinian poet and graduate student in anthropology at Columbia University. At UC Berkeley, where Dina completed her undergraduate studies, she became a student and teacher for June Jordan’s Poetry for the People Program. She has published poetry in The Berkeley Poetry Review, The Yellow Medicine Review, The Believer, The Kartika Review, and more. Dina is currently completing her first manuscript of poems, titled Sabbar. Khaldoun Samman is an associate professor of sociology and Director of Middle East Studies at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota. His most recent book is entitled The Clash of Modernities: The Islamist Challenge to Jewish, Turkish and Arab Nationalism (2011). His book Cities of God and Nationalism: Mecca, Jerusalem and Rome as Contested World Cities was released in 2007. He also co-edited a volume with Mazher Al-Zo’by, Islam and the Orientalist World-System (2008). Tasnim Qutait is a Libyan writer and translator who grew up in Libya, Egypt, Sweden, and Britain. She has worked as a freelance journalist and translated a collection of Libyan folktales. She blogs sporadically at Leila Tayeb is a Libyan-American scholar of performance and politics. Her recent research has focused on art in the 2011 Libyan revolution, stand-up comedy in the Middle East, Arabic music and dance practice in the diaspora, and minstrelsy in early American modern dance. Andy Young is the co-editor of Meena, a bilingual ArabicEnglish literary journal, and she teaches creative w riting at New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. Her work was recently featured on Public Radio International’s “The World” and published in Best New Poets 2009, Callaloo, Guernica, and the anthology Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia & Beyond. The poems included in this issue are from a collection that will be published by Press Street Press in conjunction with the one-year anniversary of the Egyptian revolution: -78-

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Comparative Literature, University of Minnesota Eastside Food Co-op General Mills Middle East & North Africa Network Wells Fargo Middle East Team Member Network Mizna Benefactor ($1000+) Elma & Raja Ghanem Barbara Jabr Anonymous foundation ArtsLab Carolyn Foundation Elmer L. & Eleanor J. Andersen Foundation Holy Land Restaurant & Deli Jerome Foundation McKnight Foundation Minnesota Regional Arts Council Nash Foundation Pangea World Theater

Could you help, too? Please send your tax-deductible donation to: Mizna, 2205 California Street NE, Suite 109A, Minneapolis, MN 55418 -79-

Mizna Volume 13 | Issue 1 2012

subMission Guidelines Mizna continuously seeks original writing for upcoming publications. We welcome submissions on Arab-American themes that reflect the diversity of our community. Contributors do not have to be of Arab descent provided their work is of relevance to the Arab-American community. We prefer electronic submissions. If you would like your work to be considered for publication, please send your submission and a short biography (maximum 50 words) via e-mail as attachments (not in the body of the message) to, and include the word “submission� in the subject line. Please include your name, mailing address, e-mail address, and phone number. The attachments should be standard word-processing program files. Prose should be double-spaced and limited to 2500 words. Please limit poetry submissions to four poems per submission. Verses exceeding our page width will be treated with a runover indent. Proofs can be made available for author approval before publication. Writers whose work is published in Mizna will receive a stipend and complimentary copies of the journal. Due to the volume of submissions received, those not conforming to the above guidelines, as well as material previously published in any other English-language forum, will not be considered.


Mizna Volume 13 | Issue 1 2012

baCK issues Volume 1, Issue 1, 1999: Saleh Abudayyeh, Saladdin Ahmed, Mohammed Almosa, Ahimsa T. Bodhrán, Kathryn Haddad, Nathalie Handal, Nadia Higgins, Joanna Kadi, Lisa Suheir Majaj, and visual art by Adnan Shati.

Volume 1, Issue 2, 1999: Suheir Hammad, Annemarie Jacir, Ziad Shakir el-Jishi, Pauline Kaldas, Nahid Khan, Abd al-Hayy Moore, Naomi Shihab Nye, David Williams, and visual art by Fawzia Reda.

Volume 1, Issue 3, 1999: Elmaz Abinader, Sadida Athaulla, Najib Ghadbian, Lisa Gizzi, Mohja Kahf, Susan Bassam Muaddi, Anna Reckin, Nasser Yanbeiy, Alia Yunis, and visual art by Cathy Camper.

Volume 2, Issue 1, 2000: Jalaa’ Anwar Abdelwahab, Ibtisam Barakat, Edith Dunn, Lorie Haddad, Rawi Hage, Dima Hilal, Mark Riad Mikhael, Shareef Riad, Steven Salaita, and visual art by Hend Al-Mansour.

Volume 2, Issue 2, 2000: Esam Abdel Aal, Kazim Ali, Sidi Cherkawi Benzahra, Ahimsa Timoteo Bodhrán, Issa J. Boullata, Aida Hassan, Joanna Kadi, Nahid Khan, Hassan Mekouar, Youssef Rakha, and visual art by Natalia Yatsukhina.


Mizna Volume 13 | Issue 1 2012

Volume 2, Issue 3, 2000: Kareem Aal, Amani Elkassabani, Lisa Gizzi, Yussef El Guindi, Mark Hage, Rouane Itani, Graydon Kouri, Dunya Mikhail, Zahera Saed, Stan West, and visual art by Jen Camper.

Volume 3, Issue 1, 2001: Kitty Aal, Saladin Ahmed, Sidi Benzahra, Ralph Hajj, Noor Hanna, Nadia Higgins, Ziad Shaker el-Jishi, G.T. Khouri, Alix Kolar, Gary Paul Nabhan, Nigel Parry, Dahlia Petrus, Betty Shamieh, Helga Tawil, and visual art by Rawi Hage.

Volume 3, Issue 2, 2001: Kazim Ali, Ibtisam Barakat, Edith Dunn, Eva Elias, Chris Ellery, Annemarie Jacir, Sham-e-Ali al-Jamil, Rima Najjar Kapitan, D.H. Melhem, Susan Muaddi, Pamela Nice, Steven Salaita, Lubna Warawra, and visual art by Lucien Samaha.

Volume 3, Issue 3, 2001: Ahimsa Timoteo Bodhrán, Cathy Camper, Cherien Dabis, Yussef El Guindi, Dima Hilal, Mohja Kahf, Sinan Khatib, Khaled Mattawa, Corey Wade, Layla El-Wafi, David Williams, and visual art by Emily Jacir.

Volume 4, Issue 1, 2002: Esam Aal, Rae’d Abu-Ghazaleh, Hannah Allam, Nabila Assaf, Kathryn Buck, Shaw J. Dallal, Rasha Ghappour, Rawi Hage, Marwa Hassoun, Zahie El Kouri, Lisa Suhair Majaj, A.Y. May, David Mura, Ruba Sadi, Sarah Hope Zogby, and visual art by Yasser Aggour.


Mizna Volume 13 | Issue 1 2012

Volume 4, Issue 2, 2002: R. Abusahan, Nadeen Al-Jijakli, Jennifer Molina Balbuena, Sidi Benzahra, Susan Muaddi Darraj, Deana El-Farouki Dueno, Angele Ellis, Sura Faraj, Ghassan Ghraizi, Katherine Glover, Leah Ida Harris, Edward Bok Lee, Robyne Robinson, Ahmed Tharwat, and visual art by Marwan Sahmarani. Volume 5, Issue 1, 2003: Stephen Ajay, Evelyn Alsultany, Ibtisam S. Barakat, Lamya el-Chidiac, Amani Elkassabani, Nahid Khan, D.H. Melhem, Nasreen Mohamed, Gregory Orfalea, Sachin B. Patel, Juliana Pegues, Wade Savitt, and visual art by Zena el-Khalil.

Volume 5, Issue 2, 2003: Assef Al-Jundi, Sidi Benzahra, Tammi Mohamed Brown, Cathy Camper, Leila Darabi, Raff Ellis, Noura Erakat, Morad Fareed, Yussef El Guindi, Laila Halaby, Suheir Hammad, Amira Jarmakani, Nadeen Al-Jijakli, Joanna Kadi, Pauline Kaldas, Sahar Kayyal, Naomi Shihab Nye, and visual art by Nida Sinnokrot. Volume 6, Issue 1, 2004 (Edward Said Memorial): Mazher Al-Zo窶話y, Naseer H. Aruri, John Asfour, Ibtisam Barakat, Paul Barrows, Brian Cronwall, Susan Muaddi Darraj, Nathalie Handal, Jennifer Min Hong, Iron Sheik, Raテコl Gテウmez Jattin, Joanna Kadi, Mohja Kahf, Myung-Hee Kim, Ramzi Moufarej, Najla Said, Junichi P. Semitsu, Laila Shereen, and visual art by Aissa Deebi. Volume 6, Issue 2, 2004: R. Abusahan, Anwar F. Accawi, Mariam Alsharif, Barbara Bedway, D. Daryoush, Shelley Ettinger, Mahmoud Kaabour, Ismail Khalidi, Laila Lalami, Gregory Orfalea, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Ziana Qaiser-Raza, Manel Saddique, Anaテッs Alexandra Tekerian, David Williams, Alia Yunis, and visual art by Marya Kazoun.


Mizna Volume 13 | Issue 1 2012

Volume 7, Issue 1, 2005 (Humor and Satire): Ibtisam S. Barakat, Jennifer Camper, Yussef El Guindi, Kathryn Haddad, Rosina Hassoun, Jason Makansi, D.H. Melhem, Santiago Nasar, Samir M. Nassar, William Nour, Dean Obeidallah, Bushra Rehman, Ahmed Tharwat, Patricia S. Ward, and visual art by Nic Barbeln. Volume 7, Issue 2, 2005: Rana Abdul-Aziz, Stephen Ajay, Bushra Azzouz, Paul Kaidy Barrows, Tami Mohamed Brown, Kay Hardy Campbell, Angele Ellis, Hedy Habra, Ali Hazzah, Assef Al-Jundi, Mahmoud Kaabour, Pauline Kaldas, Kathryn Kysar, Amy E. Levine, ShahĂŠ Mankerian, Rasha Salti, Zeina Azzam Seikaly, and visual art by Bashar Azzouz. Volume 8, Issue 1, 2006: R. Abusahan, Habib Albi, Brooke Anthony, Robert Booras, Annie Chuang, Brian Cronwall, D. Daryoush, Amani Elkassabani, Mazen Halabi, Ismail Khalidi, Philip Metres, P.A. Pashibin, Patricia Sarrafian Ward, Sophia Michelle Yohannes, Ahmed Ismail Yusuf, and visual art by Hamdi Attia. Volume 8, Issue 2, 2006 (Lebanon): John Asfour, Tamiko Beyer, Rewa Z. Choueiri, Rhonda W. Chiodo, Faye George, H. Palmer Hall, Dima Hilal, Sham-e-Ali al-Jamil, Yahia S. Lababidi, Amy E. Levine, Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore, William Nour, Bushra Rehman, Junichi P. Semitsu, Fouzi Slisli, Mary Tabakow, Ahmed Tharwat, David Williams, Andy Young, Alia Yunis, Claire Zoghb. Visual art by Mazen Kerbaj, Zena el-Khalil, Randa Mirza, and Jana Traboulsi. Volume 9, Issue 1, 2007 (Latitudes 2007): Ibrahim N. Abusharif, Rewa Zeinati Choueiri, D. Daryoush, Layla Dowlatshahi, Nouri Gana, Sarah Husain, Ismail Khalidi, Nadine Khalil, Taous Khazem, Yahia Lababidi, Jen March, Philip Metres, CĂŠcile Oumhani, Sherene Seikaly, Sophia Michelle Yohannes, and visual art by Sharif Waked.


Mizna Volume 13 | Issue 1 2012

Volume 9, Issue 2, 2007 (Family): R. Abusahan, Lisa Adwan, John Asfour, Layla Dowlatshahi, Hedy Habra, Marian Haddad, Laila Halaby, Badria Jazairi, Pauline Kaldas, Taous Khazem, Kathryn Kysar, Jen March, Weam Namou-Yatooma, William Nour, Mary Taddia, Teresa Whitman, and visual art by Athir Shayota. Volume 10, 2008: Charlotte Albrecht, Niebal Atiyeh, Mary Barghout, Wendy Brown-Baez, Robert Caisley, Catherine Coray, Lorena Duarte, Yussef El Guindi, Randy Holland, Gordon Hon, Sham-e-Ali al-Jamil, Assef Al-Jundi, Beverly Monestier, Mike Rollin, Nadine Sinno, and visual art by Bashir Makhoul. Volume 11, 2009: Anya Achtenberg, Hannah Lillith Assadi, Ahimsa Timoteo Bodhrรกn, Richard Broderick, Mahmoud Darwish, May Hawas, Fady Joudah, Taous Claire Khazem, D.H. Melhem, Philip Metres, David Mura, Gregory Orfalea, and visual art by Walid Raad.

Volume 12, 2011: Faisal Alahmad, Niebal Atiyeh, Mary Barghout, Susan Muaddi Darraj, D. Daryoush, Benjamin Arda Doty, Yussef El Guindi, David Jalajel, Nahid Khan, Bayan Khatib, Yahia Lababidi, Abdifatah Shafat, Mejdulene Shomali, Helga Tawil-Souri, and visual art by Oraib Toukan.


Mizna Volume 13 | Issue 1 2012

subsCriPTions Annual subscriptions: U.S./Canada: $20/year or $35/two years International: $35/year or $65/two years Institutional: $60/year or $100/two years Individual issues (add $1.50 each for postage): U.S./Canada: $10 International: $17.50 Subscribe on our website at Or, send check or money order to: Mizna 2205 California Street NE Suite 109A Minneapolis, MN 55418


Mizna: LITERATURE IN REVOLUTION Summer 2012, Vol 13.1  

Literature in Revolution special issue. With contributions from R. Abusahan, Maimouna Alammar, Andrea Assaf, John Asfour, Mary Barghout, Ang...

Mizna: LITERATURE IN REVOLUTION Summer 2012, Vol 13.1  

Literature in Revolution special issue. With contributions from R. Abusahan, Maimouna Alammar, Andrea Assaf, John Asfour, Mary Barghout, Ang...